A person making a blood donation.
Healthy Living

What’s the Difference Between Donating Blood, Plasma and Platelets?

Jun 21 2021

Every year, blood transfusions save about 4.5 million lives. The kind of blood transfusion a patient gets can determine whether they live or die.

People who give blood may wonder, “Is it better to donate blood or plasma?” Others may question, “Should I donate blood or platelets?”

Knowing the different types of blood and blood donations is important because it can help you decide how you can do the most good when giving blood.

Blood types

Your blood type is passed down from your parents, just like your height or hair color.

Red blood cells either have or don’t have special markers called antigens. The presence or lack of these proteins and sugars in your blood determines your blood type. Careful blood typing is important because when antigens are put into the wrong body, they can trigger an attack by the immune system.

There are two main blood groups: ABO and Rh. The blood types in the ABO group are:

  • Type A: Has an A marker
  • Type B: Has a B marker
  • Type AB: Has A and B markers
  • Type O: Has no A or B markers

Blood also has or doesn’t have a protein called Rh factor. If it has Rh factor, blood type is labeled positive (+). If it doesn’t have Rh factor, blood type is labeled negative (-).

The most common blood types are:

  • A+: Has an A marker and Rh factor
  • A-: Has an A marker and no Rh factor
  • B+: Has a B marker and Rh factor
  • B-: Has a B marker and no Rh factor
  • AB+: Has A and B markers and Rh factor
  • AB-: Has A and B markers and no Rh factor
  • O+: Has no A or B markers but does have Rh factor
  • O-: Has no A or B markers or Rh factor

Types of blood donations

Blood donations help many people including:

  • People who have had surgery
  • People who’ve been in an accident
  • People with cancer or other diseases

Before you give blood, learn about the different types of donations. In some cases, one donation can help several people.

Types of donations you can give include:

  • Concentrated red blood cells
  • Plasma
  • Platelets
  • Whole blood

Who are universal blood donors?

Universal donors are a welcome sight at blood donation centers. People with Type O- blood are universal blood donors because O- can be given to people with any blood type. People with AB blood are universal plasma donors because AB plasma can be given to people with any blood type.

What is whole blood donation?

Whole blood serves many purposes. It can be used as is or separated into concentrated blood cells, plasma or platelets. Whole blood is often used in cases of trauma or surgery.

To donate whole blood, is usually takes about one hour and all blood types are accepted. You can donate whole blood once every 56 days.

What is a power red donation?

When you give a power red donation, a machine separates out red blood cells from plasma and platelets. People who receive power red transfusions can include:

  • Mothers giving birth
  • Newborns
  • People with sickle cell anemia
  • Trauma patients

A power red donation lasts roughly 1 1/2 hours and the best blood types include O+, O-, A- and B-. You can give power red donations once every 112 days.

What is platelet donation?

By donating platelets versus blood, you might help transplant patients or people with injuries or serious illnesses.

Platelets are cells in blood that bind together to make clots. Donation of platelets usually takes 2 1/2 to 3 hours. One donation of platelets can result in several usable units. If you’re wondering what blood type is best for donating platelets, think A+, A-, B+, O+, AB+ and AB-. You can donate platelets once every seven days.

What is plasma donation?

Plasma is used in cases of emergency and it can be given to people with any blood type. In some cases, it can help people fight illnesses, like COVID-19.

Plasma is yellow in color, and it’s the liquid part of blood that carries blood cells and platelets through the body. Donating plasma usually takes about 1 1/4 hours, and the best blood types are AB+ and AB-. You can donate plasma once every 28 days.

We are in the middle of a national blood shortage. If you are able to, please consider becoming a blood donor at one of our partner facilities today. 

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