Photo of person donating blood
Healthy Living

How to Confront Common Fears of Donating Blood

Feb 21 2022

Donating blood can be one of the easiest and most meaningful ways to help others, especially during a blood shortage. When you donate blood, you’re helping people experiencing any number of different medical conditions or treatments – a woman giving birth to her child, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or someone receiving regular transfusions for chronic illness.

The American Red Cross is experiencing its worst shortage of blood donations in a decade. Without these donations, hospitals and medical centers have to look elsewhere for sufficient blood supply. You may be thinking, “I’m squeamish about blood donation,” or “I’m afraid of needles,” and it’s holding you back from offering donation. However, there are a number of ways to address each aversion so that you too can make a difference.

“I’m afraid I’ll faint.”

A study by Ohio University identified the fear of fainting as a key reason people are afraid to donate blood. However, fainting from blood donation is pretty uncommon. The study, published in the medical journal “Transfusion,” notes that less than 4 percent of people pass out before blood donation, and less than 1 percent faint once the blood collection is over.

“I’m afraid of needles.”

This is a very common reason people don’t donate blood. Trypanophobia, or a fear of needles or blood, is estimated to affect almost a quarter of the adult population. Although it’s common, it can also affect your health because it may cause you to delay important vaccinations or avoid necessary medical procedures.

People who are afraid of needles are also less likely to donate blood. However, you can try to overcome your fear by donating blood. Try these methods for dealing with your aversion to shots or injections:

  • Bring a support person: Having someone you trust accompany you to donate blood may feel calming and can provide a distraction. Be sure to check on current restrictions, as some locations may limit the number of people you can bring due to COVID-19.
  • Speak up: Tell the person drawing the blood that you’re afraid of needles. They can provide moral support and ease you through the process by explaining in detail what will happen.
  • Don’t watch – or do: Looking away can diminish some of the anxiety leading up to the actual prick. However, some people feel comforted knowing exactly what is happening, so if you are put at ease by seeing the process of donating blood, pay attention to each step your health care provider is following.
  • Don’t forget to breathe: Deep breathing can boost relaxation, providing extra calm in a situation you might otherwise find stressful.

“My iron is too low.”

It’s true that people with iron levels that are too low – 12.5 for women and 13 for men – are discouraged from donating. But just because you were turned away previously does not mean that you aren’t able to donate in the future. Before donating your blood, a health care professional will give you a short medical exam that measures your vitals, cholesterol and, of course, your hematocrit (iron) levels.

If you are still unable to donate due to low iron levels, the health care provider can give you ways to increase your iron levels through easy diet changes. That way, next time you attempt to donate, you will be more likely to be eligible.

“I’ll contract a disease.”

Blood donation is an extremely safe and sterile process. Eligibility standards are regularly reviewed to keep donors safe. You’ll also receive a short medical exam beforehand to identify any potential problems that could arise following donation, such as dizziness or fainting.

All equipment used in blood collection is sterile and disposable, meaning it can only be used once. As soon as blood collection ends, the needle and all related materials are disposed of in biohazard containers.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most blood donation sites require masks to be worn at all times during the donation process.

“I’ll feel sick after donating.”

Some people may experience negative effects following blood donation, such as dizziness, physical weakness, nausea and fainting. As we said before, fainting before or after donating blood is uncommon.

Once you are finished with the blood collection, you are asked to stay at the facility for a short period of time. You will be given refreshments, like water or juice, and some snacks to replenish the liquids and sugars in the blood.

Also, health care professionals are on hand to observe you as you recover to ensure that you are feeling well enough to leave, and can intervene should you need any help. However, most donors feel fine after a short time.

I don’t have time to donate.”

Some people who worry about feeling sick are also concerned it will put them “out of commission” for the rest of the day. However, most people who donate blood feel fine after a small snack and short break.

A single blood donation can help as many as three people, many in life-threatening situations where a transfusion is necessary to replace blood loss. Your donation can not only provide critical aid to someone in need but can also help you face one of your fears at the same time.

And again, the American Red Cross is experiencing its worst shortage of blood donations in a decade. You can donate at a local blood drive to support the people in your community. Find an ARC blood drive near you.

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