I work for a large technology company, and I'm a father of four. I enjoy writing and being outdoors.
Are There Dangers of Donating Blood?
Let me begin by saying that giving blood—and helping others in general—is both noble and honorable. I would recommend you donate blood and support your local blood center, if your doctor says you are able to do so.
I have found that you can't trust a blood center to consider your health when they are concerned with collecting as many pints of blood as possible. Make sure that you consult a doctor; this is crucial. Had I done so, I may have been able to avoid a life-threatening situation.
Firstly, who do you rely on at a blood drive to keep your interests in mind? Paid employees of the blood centers are called phlebotomists, or "bloodletters," and they can help determine your eligibility. This is important to know because there is no doctor or nurse at the drive—no one with expert medical credentials. You may expect a kind volunteer who helped organize the blood drive might look out for you. While volunteers may help show you to your seat in a waiting area, or cross your name off the sign-up list, they do not have the training to determine if you're healthy enough to donate.
Before Donating Blood: Consult Your Doctor
As a frequent donor over the decades, I have met some highly qualified, professional, well-trained phlebotomists. I have also met some who I wouldn't trust as far as I could throw them. It's an easy job to get into, with a national average starting salary near $30k, and training available for as low as a few hundred dollars (subsidized) that can be as short as six weekend classes. Training was once primarily provided by hospitals, but is now available at a huge number of vocational/occupational/trade schools. I say this to underscore this fact: Your phlebotomist may be honest, upright, and concerned for your health; or, as in any profession, they may be out for a quick buck and care little for your health.
How Donating Blood Nearly Killed Me
My local blood center comes to my office park every eight weeks for a blood drive. If I wasn't extremely sick or out of town, I would give at every opportunity. Eight weeks is the minimum time between donations for whole blood and they take a pint each time you donate. This means I've been donating almost a gallon of my blood each year. Naturally, the blood center loved me. Once in a while, a phlebotomist would tell me, "your iron looks a little low," or, "you'd better eat some red meat tonight." Only once (a few years ago) was I turned away for having too little iron in my blood. Keep in mind, I'm a healthy 40-year-old male with no history of anemia or other blood problems. I don't run any marathons, but I do walk five miles a day, seven days a week.
During this particular blood drive, the phlebotomists were instead engaged in a heated discussion over whom among them was the laziest employee, citing many recent examples of each other's poor work at the blood drive that day.
After donating, I returned to my desk, feeling a little dizzier than usual. The next day, on Friday, I felt better. I did some yard work over the weekend however and noticed losing my wind while doing heavy lifting. I had a relaxing Sunday, then returned to the office on Monday. This is when things started to get strange. I had a pretty decent migraine when I woke up, and it got worse as the morning wore on. I thought this was odd because I'd experienced migraines before and never got dizzy during one. I decided to go to one more meeting and see if I felt better.
By the time the meeting was over, I was even dizzier. I decided to leave for home while I could still drive. By the time I reached my car in the parking garage, I started to wonder if I could safely make my thirty minute commute. I decided to call my wife and keep her on the phone with me while I drove. This was the second wisest choice I could have made.
I never made it home.
I was just over halfway, driving 60MPH in the fast lane, when I lost the ability to talk. I had thoughts in my head, but I didn't have any words I could put them into. For a short while, I thought I was merely dreaming of driving, and didn't have any conscious control over my vehicle—still at 60MPH in the fast lane. This could have easily ended my life.
When I realized what was happening, I laid on the horn and started moving across three lanes of traffic to the shoulder. I was extremely tired—half-conscious at best. My wife heard me honking over the phone, and I remember her telling our kids to get in the car. I couldn't give her a meaningful response.
My wife called 911, and an ambulance soon found me. I was admitted to the nearest hospital through their ER. I spent the better part of a week there, as they pricked and probed every part of me, treating me with their stroke protocol. After tens of thousands of dollars of tests (CT scans, MRIs, MRAs, X-rays, invasive scopes, blood tests, biopsies, etc.) a consultation of four specialists unanimously agreed I was merely anemic, and had given blood far too often over the years. I was told by these doctors, I could never give blood again.
"I just don't understand it . . . don't they test you for iron?" they asked. "There's no way you could have been in a healthy iron range four days ago, and lost only a pint of blood!" My iron stores were completely wiped out, and my current iron count was so low they nearly had to give me an emergency blood transfusion. They gave me four bags of intravenous iron before releasing me.
The internal medicine doctor told me the "prick test" my blood center uses to test iron content is inaccurate, but still would have shown I was dangerously low before I donated. Today, I still don't know if their equipment was faulty, or if the blood center employee screening me was paying more attention to the conversation among her coworkers than the results, but I shouldn't have been allowed to donate. They were so busy saving a life (to borrow their drive slogan) they almost snuffed me out.
Learn From My Experience, Especially If You Suffer from Migraines
Low blood and low iron content can cause migraines. Migraines have plagued me for years, and my doctors tell me I should have far fewer when my iron levels get up to normal.
Migraines can in turn cause the stroke symptoms I experienced, such as tingling numbness, losing consciousness, and expressive aphasia (losing the ability to talk). In extremely rare cases, migraines can cause actual strokes.
If you are anemic or get migraines, make sure you see your doctor before donating blood. Don't trust the blood center to save your life; they almost took mine away.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
O Negative on September 19, 2018:
Been donating on/off for at least 20 years, despite being anemic. Have been turned away often due to low BP and/or low hemo, but am at nearly 4 gallons.
Doc said I shouldn't be donating because of this, but I used to be able to go to the gym and be active even the same day after donating. Took a few years off, then decided a few days ago I missed it, and donated.
Today, I got up and felt very dizzy, and stayed dizzy all day- still am! Really hoping to make it to five gallons in my lifetime, but that'll take at least a decade at this rate. Wondering if there's a cutoff age?
Jennifer on September 04, 2018:
Nick, I can’t speak for everyone, but I didn’t go see a doctor before donating. Yes, turns out, my bad. I just went to the donation clinic which didn’t inform me that hemoglobin and iron were two different aspects of blood donation that can be affected. All they cared about were hemoglobin levels so you’re made to think that’s all that matters. It was after when I went to see my family doctor about how horrible I was still feeling a month later that she informed me about my iron levels and that I shouldn’t be donating. Now before I donate, I get my iron levels checked first by my doctor. Lesson here...get your iron levels checked before you donate. A lot of people are misinformed and mistake iron levels as the same thing as hemoglobin levels. Anyway, we’re all just trying to do good here, there’s no need to be condescending in saying we lack common sense. Educate, don’t belittle.
Nicholas Gregory on August 03, 2018:
How in the heck did you or none of your doctors realize that blood donations DO NOT CHECK OR TEST FOR IRON. They test hemoglobin.... And yes you can have high hemoglobin and low iron. So quit saying their iron checks failed you because you never got your iron checked. I'm just a casual donor with no medical background but it seems as if your own lack of common sense was your demise.
MILTONDELROSARIO on June 22, 2018:
ICAN UNDERSTAND, YOUR STORY AND I APRECIATE ALL THE INFO ,IAM RECEIVING BECAUSE I ALSO LIKE DONATE,BLOOD. ONE OF MY REASON,IS BECAUSE I HAVE NOT DONATED BLOOD OVER TWENTY YRS. I HAD AND ERUPTED BLADER TRAUMA OPRATION,AND I LOST ALOT BLOOD.2REASON IS THAT I HOPE THAT MY BLOOD CAN HELP SOMEBODY. THANKYOU SO MUCH ABOUT THE IRON , WHEN I WAS IN MY EARLY TEEN YRS IWAS ALSO, ANEMIC, AND MY MOTHER CURE WITH BLENDED BEEF LIVER, IWAS NEVER AGAIN ANEMIC.GOD BLEESYOU KEEP UP THE GGOD THEE.
Vasantha. on May 03, 2018:
Thank you for your experience..
It is really helpful to make a decision whether or not to donate.
I am 49 old woman and a regular donor.
First time I am still not feeling well after donated 3 weeks back.
And I already booked the next appointment July 2018.
I couldn't do my regular activities.
Now I realized that I should take care myself first.
donation gives my great feeling That's really true.
Bill on March 15, 2018:
Wow. Thanks for all the comments. I was a "life donor"
I suppose having given around 15 gallons from 1974 until 2010 or so. In the early years i too could and would go for a run on the same day i donated just to test myself. Now I'm almost 70 and think i must have low iron or hemoglobin, B-12 deficiency, or something similar. Low energy and tire easily. My doc does extensive blood work annually and it's almost time again. The symptoms I see on this board are familiar and tomorrow I'm starting iron and B-12. I don't donate now because I had prostate cancer in 2015, although surgery cured that. I'm a strong believer in supplements and have taken Vitamin C and E religiously for around 40 years. Live long and prosper :) all you donors!
Jennifer on October 19, 2017:
Wow. I thought I was the only one. I donated blood at my university’s blood clinic through the Canadian Blood Services. My hemoglobin level was 13.3 and everything checked out fine. The donation went great, I ate well, sat down for 30 minutes and took the city bus home. BIG MISTAKE! I got dizzy, nauseous, disoriented, overheated and then my vision went. Eyes were wide open and couldn’t see a damn thing. Next thing I know, I’m at the transit terminal being woken up. I lost consciousness and no one knew. I hopped on the next bus, got home 5 minutes later and didn’t move a muscle out of my bed. Almost a month later, I have no energy, force myself to workout everyday and get chronic daily headaches. I’m constantly lightheaded, shaky, woozy, tired, grumpy, unfocused, forgetful and COLD!! For Canadians, above 8 Celcius is chilly, but certainly not cold enough to feel like you have hypothermia on a daily basis. I’m an O, so my need to donate is imminent, but I’ll only be doing it once a year. They really need to have a better system in place for the donor and aftercare as well as precautionary information. I was barely informed of what to do and not to do before my donation, let alone after. Donors beware.
Phlebotomist on September 07, 2017:
I work for Canadian blood Services and I can tell you that we have never tested iron levels. We do however, check your hemoglobin levels which is a protein in your red blood cells that delivers oxygen to your body. Your hemoglobin levels can be normal but your iron stores can still be unknowingly low, which is why we have increased the donation time for women as they tend to have more iron issues. Not so much for men. It is always good to speak with your doctor before donating. Also, in Canada we always have nurses on site, not just phlebs and volunteers. I'm glad you're doing ok now. Your story is a scary one! And I'm hoping a rare one.
Poopypants on September 01, 2017:
Don't be an idiot and you should be fine. Check that your iron is ok by asking questions after the test. I've given 6 gallons in my life, every 8 weeks for the last 8 years or so. I bike to and from blood drives and run the next day.
caz on August 05, 2017:
In the UK the minimum wait between donations is 12 weeks for men and 16 weeks for women. Perhaps doing it every 8 weeks was the problem?
Mike on July 20, 2017:
I've been donating blood for years as well. I usually donate about three times a year. My Iron has been on the low side the last 5 or six times. Sat I gave and my iron was on the min side 13.0, this was using a meter as it didn't pass the sink test. After doing some research yes frequent blood donors can tend to have reduce iron, 3 times a year or more is considered frequent, glad I do not give every 8 weeks!!! I want to keep donating as I'm O-. Going to try iron supplements and see if they correct my iron levels. Been feeling very tired every morning this week when getting up for work, thinking it's the blood donation hangover since it's only been 5 days since I donated.
Lissette on July 16, 2017:
As very young I had always given blood. Im 48 and its been maybe like 4-5 years I dont donate so idecided to donate yesterday afternoon. I left the place, got in my car headed for home and i started feeling weak and woozy....as i was on the highway and the seconds would pass i would feel worst & worst. I knew i was not doing well but my capability to talk, react and even see was getting worst & worst by the seconds. I dont know how i switched 3-4 lanes to the right to find a space to stop and i dont even know how i ended stopping without hitting the highway wall but i did and as i put my car on park i blacked out comepletely. As I woke, a ranger was knocking on my window, i felt lost and very weak, when i least expected it, fire rescue was there taking my vitals which were all fine. Today i woke up still very dizzy, weak and with a horrible headache. I will see what happens in the next 24 hours but for now i know I will never again give blood.
Larisa on April 21, 2017:
I just donated my blood 3 days ago for the first time ever. When I asked them if it's going to be okay for me to go for a run the next day after donation they said yes, no problem. I did go for a run which was a big mistake. I feel completely out of energy, I have a constant headache, and today I almost passed out at work. I am a very active person who used to do a lot of cleaning after workday, but now all I want to do after I get home is lay on the couch. I feel tired all the time but cannot fall to sleep right away. And I always wake up feeling tired. I wish I did my research before donationg. Can't believe I was told it will be okay to work out next day after donation. I hope I will feel normal again soon.
Cuilin Liu on February 26, 2017:
I donated over a month ago (MLK Day) and the needle hit a nerve. The woman taking my blood took a long time to find a vein (she might have never found it) and to swap my arm with the antiseptic. To this day my arm still throbs with pain for no reason
Andramona Harris on February 08, 2017:
My experience aftermath is exactly what I went through with the numbness, fainting etc...
ambernicolee22 on January 17, 2017:
i know this is such an old post..but wow can i relate to this! 2 months ago i walked into a red cross donating drive thinking i was going to donate the typical 1 pint of blood. they convinced me to donate 2 pints saying i was the perfect candidate. i only had donated once in my life and that was many years ago. i went ahead and donated the 2 pints and its been a nightmare ever since. during the donation i felt dizzy and lightheaded which i remember feeling the first time i had donated so just brushed it off..by the next day i felt like i got hit by a MAC truck. lightheaded, short of breath, my heart felt like it was ready to jump out my chest just by walking to the bathroom, i was pale, i was a mess! i tried to continue with my regular schedule but just couldn't do it. i called the donor hotline which wasnt much help. they said i should feel better within the next few days. they were wrong! by the next week i was still feeling horrible. i drove myself to the hospital. they ran some tests and i was anemic. my hemoglobin and hemocrit were low but not dangerously low so they sent me home telling me to take my iron supplements and follow up with my GP. being a college student in the middle of finals i couldn't believe this was happening to me. still taking my iron pills i started to feel a bit better. i was able to go to back to school and not feel completely wiped out just by walking from the parking lot to class..but i still just didnt feel the same. i researched about ferritin levels and got tested for that and what do i find..my ferritin is a level 5! I WAS SHOCKED! i could only imagine what it was when i donated. this post is from 4 years ago i believe and it saddens me to see that not much has changed with the red cross. when i donated they checked my hemoglobin and it was 14.8 a week later at the emergency room is was around 10.2 or something like that. its not 13.4 i believe from the top of my head. still working on getting my ferritin back up. these side affects hit me so hard! so much anxiety from feeling so bad and being so worried about my health. safe to say im never donating again.
Cheyenne on December 06, 2016:
At the age of 24, I donate blood quite regularly. Every 8 weeks for whole blood, unless they need plasma instead. So far, I have donated 7 times in 2016 alone (like I said, not all of it has been whole blood). I have never had any adverse effects because I know what I need to watch out for. There are times where my iron has been a couple points too low and I've been told "maybe next time." Because I know I'm borderline anemic, I always keep a close eye on my iron levels and take daily vitamins with iron to ensure healthy levels.
Donating is all about knowing yourself.
Also, please make sure you go to a doctor regularly. It's very important when it comes to maintaining your health. Regular checkups are paramount.
Rebecca on November 12, 2016:
My daughter gave blood in August 2016 being a migraine suffer on Oct the 5th she had a stroke to find her iron levels were 6 and 9 way to low then Wednesday gone Nov 2016 we find at 17 she also has a hole in her heart , be wise get check before giving blood we still today have no end to this they are still testing her for more we are seeing the heart surgeon on tge 7th Dec. So thankful they found this before she became a regular doner . ☺
Gopika KS on October 30, 2016:
hi.. 5 days ago i donated my blood for the first during a blood drive they conducted in our university.my hb level was normal. i didnt feel much tiredness right after then. but as the day came to an end, i began to feel unusually sleepy. i thought,"okay... may be its because i donated blood my body needs some rest." i had some juice and went to sleep. the next day was also fine, but my arms felt kind of painful. somewhat like nerve pulling. when i told this to my mom, she assured me that this could be expected since i lost blood. that night i slept at about 1am. note that im strictly an early riser. but that day i slept straight for 10 hrs. it was like i was out cold.my roommates tried waking waking me up several times but i never once heard them. when i woke up i tried to stand i felt like i was about to fall. i had some food and tried to get some of my works done. but i couldnt concentrate. i kept zoning out from time to time. i felt really fatigued. i took a leave for the day.
since then its been like this. i feel constantly tired. when i try to take a walk, i feel as if im walking like a zombie. since the day i gave my blood i have already lost around 3 pounds. my skin looks pale, i have shortness of breath all the time. my legs feel restless. like i said before i cant help sleeping straight 10 hrs for the past 3 days. if im sitting or lying down, i feel almost normal. but as soon as i try to do something, its back to feeling dizzy again. i cant even enjoy eating my favourite food. even that makes me feel dizzy.
i had been diagnosed with low bp a few months back. back then they said it was nutrient deficiency. and now 2 days after donating blood im also having my periods.
my friend says it might be symptoms of iron deficieny. thats when i stumbled upon this blog. should i be worried? or will it pass soon?
CocHamburg on October 27, 2016:
I just donated (Germany) at my university where they set up a station, and that's something I will not do again that soon.
It's day two and I'm out of breath, lethargic and slow all the time. And cold! It's not horrible, but it feels like having a cold or being sick. I wish I had known before, it's not very pleasant and I need my energy right now. I hope one recovers fast from that..
Roselle Lorenzo on July 15, 2016:
Thank you, this was very helpful in making a decision whether or not to donate.
Tina Roberts on July 12, 2016:
I would like to have my blood put back in my arm please and my sex drive sorted out again as I used to to smoke weed and get drunk all the time but no you will not help me at all I would love to of been able to meet up with my daughter in two years but that is not going to happen now and had more children I used to smoke weed and get drunk a lot I can even move back into my old bed sit you lot help druggies and alcoholic's out but not me when I want my blood back so please help me thanks Tina Roberts
Cheryl Meril from San Francisco, CA USA on May 13, 2016:
Thanks for the article. I gave blood back in February and within three days had a major ocular migraine incident that I wrote this article. http://cherylkicksass.blogspot.com/2016/02/strange...
I didn't know what it even was so I went to the eye doctor being partially blinded by the lights appearing before my eyes. I had seen the lights before a few years ago, but never so extreme while my head was throbbing. It happened when my blood sugar was low as I was hungry waiting for a client to arrive late.
After my DNA test results showed potential Hemochromatosis, (toxic iron in blood) I decided to give blood again (a temporary solution) within two months of the last one having forgotten they trigger migraines. I had no symptoms but after 12 days of giving blood I'm in major brain fog the past three days I believe must be connected to giving blood. I actually was so debilitated today I forgot a client appointment I missed, so it's a very serious issue. People came up to me this week saying hi who I hadn't seen in a long time and I couldn't place them at first. One waved to me walking on by and I responded "who are you?". I was embarrassed. I've been taking long naps that don't cure the fatigue.
I won't be donating anymore blood for a while. To read your story was a little scary, my thoughts have been in a haze and I feel like a disoriented vegetable at times.
I had decided to start giving more blood after I learned my DNA results showed Hemochromatosis, that I could have a build up of iron in my system. Without a doctor's recommendation I decided to give blood within two months of my first giving in February.
I hadn't experienced any real systems for nearly two weeks. On the twelfth day, my body seemed very fatigued. The DNA test wasn't a good means to determine if I should give blood. My iron levels were fine according to the finger prick test. I just kind of panicked over my DNA results I guess. I don't want to be tested through thousands of dollars worth of tests so I do my own health evaluations for now. I do my own blood testing at LabCorp through Wnlk-In-Lab and used 23andMe.com for my RAW DNA data results I plugged into a third party online analysis software system (Livewello, etc.)
Beth on May 11, 2016:
It's highly unusual for a healthy male donor to become so anemic as to need an iron transfusion.
There must have been a pre-existing medical condition, genetic anomaly or illness behind this. Was it ever discovered? That information would be much more useful to donors looking at this post.
NG on May 11, 2016:
Maybe think twice before getting behind the wheel of a tonne of metal when you feel dizzy. Too many people think of not being able to drive as a hassle, instead think about all the people you could be putting at risk. Donating blood didn't nearly kill you. You nearly killed you, along with potentially killing others.
Athena on December 02, 2015:
Yikes. Yeah, you do need to be careful. Thanks for sharing your story. I get migraines too and I'm a healthy female. Everyone in my family gets them though. Otherwise we are healthy.
JT on June 26, 2015:
Chris, here's an odd question, have you been tested for Celiac disease? I ask because it's very unusual for men to have iron-deficiency anemia. I often tested at the low end of normal for iron when I went to give blood, and was turned away twice. After I had an episode at work when I nearly passed out, my doctor tested my blood iron, found me to be severely anemic, and referred me to gastro-enterologist. He ruled out a bleeding ulcer and I tested positive for Celiac disease through a blood serum test. Celiac prevents absorption of nutrients such as vitamin B and iron and contributes to anemia in otherwise-healthy men.
Lisa on June 16, 2015:
Every 8 weeks is too often to donate blood. It's minimum 12 weeks for men and 16 weeks for women between donations.
Raymon on June 03, 2015:
Chris, sorry to hear about your awful experience. I donated blood once and was very dizzy for the next 2 weeks but it all cleared up. I wonder if that had anything to do with my iron levels as I try to stay clear from heavy red meats and eat more fish and vegetables. Did you actually suffer a stroke and obtain permanent neurological damage or was that just reversible anemia? Do any symptoms still linger and did you actually suffer a stroke?
Victoria NT on May 05, 2015:
I am here in Malawi a developing country but our centers are well advanced. I donated blood twelve days ago. This was my sixth time doing this and have never experienced any problems before, until now. I am a healthy 34 year old and very energetic. On this particular day, after donating the blood, everything seemed fine, went on about my routines. About five hours later I felt like a jab of pain on the upper neck left side spreading up to the head. Took two Aspirin and went to bed two hours later, after ten pm. I woke up to an intense pain on the same side of the neck and head, that was around three am. Felt very dizzy and confused and dry tongued. Got out of bed to tell someone but collapsed after a few steps. Got myself up, feeling more dizzy, confused and in a lot of pain but blacked out completely soon after, until I was found by my aunt who heard a thumb from her room of me collapsing. I was unresponsive for some time. Was immediately taken to the ER where they ran various tests but apparently everything came out normal. My hemoglobin level was 13.7. Before donating it was at 14.1, as I was told. Up to now I am still poorly, bed bound most of the time due to the same headaches, dizzy, high pulse rate and just feeling weak in general. It's like my life has stopped since I haven't been able to go back to my daily routine. I even had to be bathed the first few days.
I only need someone to try to explain to me what this could be. why are the headaches only one sided, why so many things. will I get back to my normal self?
OncologyRN on April 24, 2015:
Iron levels are not checked prior to donating blood. Hemoglobin and hematocrit are not measures of iron. It is incorrect for someone to tell you that you have too little or too much iron from a finger stick hemoglobin. Also, ferritin alone is not a measure of iron. Ferritin is an acute phase reactant and can be elevated due to many reasons this is why it is done in conjunction with other specific measures of iron if anemia or iron overload is being evaluated.
FJ on April 20, 2015:
It's very different in Australia. I'm pretty sure all the blood banks are staffed by nurses, and while they call endlessly to get you in there, when you're there they're very strict about you proving you're healthy enough to donate. I used to attend as part of a blood donating "team" and many times many of our members were turned down for low iron. I think in Australia we can only donate whole blood four times a year?
AlanWayne on February 11, 2015:
I give regularly and have given over 100 units over the yeas. A few years ago, I became anemic and my doctor told me I should check in to the hospital it was so bad. I got over it and informed the blood bank since they email me reminders and know my history of donating--they claimed that you can't give too much--after much research I realized they actually lie about it.
I seldom go to the Dr but if you donate--you do have to watch out for yourself regarding your iron because many blood banks won't. Sad but true.
Ben on January 14, 2015:
This is all so familiar. Been donating blood regularly (usually six times a year) for about eight years. Had no idea how closely I needed to monitor my iron stores. Became anemic quickly learned that even my GP didn't know much about anemia due to blood donation. I've also been dealing with RLS, which can be due to insufficient iron, even with a ferritin level that is in the low-normal range. Have to stop donating blood for the time being while I rebuild my iron stores. Last ferritin level was 19. Not good.
jack renolds on October 27, 2014:
Yes i gave blood also and almost fainted after several times of giving blood i found out i was anemic .I was very lightheaded after giving blood .Now they said i shouldn't donate because i had very low ferritin
Shelby on September 17, 2014:
Just a fyi hospitals use phlebotomist to draw and even test some blood. I'm sorry you had a terrible reaction but to say it almost killed you is insane. I'm routinely anemic and have had many iv infusions of blood, but I don't walk around saying anemia almost killed me. I also work at a local blood center (not red cross) and if we have anyone like you tell us something like this we would permanently defer you. Our training is extensive and we are forced to follow fda testing policies. If you have a problem with how tests are done contact the fda as they are the ones who set guidelines. I would never lie about a test to pass someone to hurry and leave a. I like my job and b. Odds are if you fail it and we take you anyway your going to have a reaction which keeps us later anyway. And on a side note I had education to do what I do and am nationally certified
Aaron on July 30, 2014:
Wow. I would never have thought that in America, a developed country, that donating blood sounds so primitive. I've been donating since I was 16, now 32 and been doing plasma for the past 4 years. The nurses who monitor me are nurses, with medical training mostly coming out of hospitals seeking a more positive career - lots of people die in hospitals after all. They work closely with a range of fully qualified doctors. Your system just sounds, broken.
jsa on June 28, 2014:
I just gave 2 pints about 7hrs ago and have a migraine. Not sure if that's a problem or what to do.
Becky C on June 21, 2014:
I can't believe these comments giving blood in the UK is much more regulated than this and is totally run by volunteer nurses. You are screened much more thoroughly and they're very strict about who donates. I can't believe the Mickey Mouse set up that goes on in the states. Donating 5 times a year? It's every 12 weeks for men in the uk and every 16 for women. You have to sign as part of a screen every time you donate. You can be turned away.
Kim in OK on May 25, 2014:
I am a Registered Nurse and not to toot my own horn, am highly knowledgeable in human physiology. I support the author's decision to never donate blood again. Based on the experience he shares, I know he is telling the truth. I, myself have experienced a traumatic experience from donating blood. That is one mistake I will NEVER make again. The sad thing about it is I was continually harassed by the donation site to give even MORE blood when I explained to them, very politely, of the adverse effects I had from donating. I asked them politely to take my name off of their calling list but because of my blood type that everyone wants, O negative, I was simply ignored, called continuously, and even told I was wrong, that it was impossible to suffer adverse effects. (I do, in fact know what I was talking about. I see it everyday as a practicing nurse and have helped scores of people, including saving lives. Plus, I aced physiology when I was in nursing school.)
Immediately after giving blood, I felt dizzy and very short of breath. I couldn't even climb the stairs to my bedroom at home. I became confused at times, even lost because I didn't know where I was a few times, and I even fell down a couple of times, too. I couldn't blame it on being old because I was only 40 and I couldn't blame it on drugs or alcohol because I don't do those things. Maybe, just maybe it was because of me donating blood...... It seems too coincidental. Hasn't ever happened before that period of time or after, either. It took me about three months to recover from that ordeal.
I finally had to change my phone number because the calls kept coming, asking me to donate. After the third time of explaining my experience, and I was ignored each time, I thought that enough was enough and changed my number.
Some people just don't have the ability to donate. They should not feel guilty about it. Those who donate or attempt to donate are just as important as those who are needing a donation. That's my two cents on the matter.
blood chilling on April 23, 2014:
Really? A phlebotomist can be qualified after 6 Saturday classes??? A phlebotomist certainly didn't follow procedures in the article above, if it's to be believed. Who would turn them in? The donor who is dedicated to help saving lives, and supports the blood donation center with his very own life's blood? I find your very premises uninformed and unimaginitive.
nate on April 23, 2014:
Thanks for sharing. I wish I had heard of this before I donated for 10 years and became anemic.
Jennifer on April 17, 2014:
I'm not sure where you donated or with what blood bank, but just because someone went to school on Saturdays for 6 classes, doesn't mean they are not qualified. The blood bank where I work has extensive training for our already qualified employees. This training lasts approximately 3 months before they are considered competent to be on their own. Blood banks are regulated by the FDA. Some procedures and criteria are made even more strict by the medical directors of the organization. The phlebotomists/medical assistants have nothing to do with what is acceptable or not to donate. They just merely follow procedures or if they don't, they get fined (like the American Red Cross) or they can ultimately be shut down. There is never a need for a doctor to be present while someone is donating.
What happened in your case is rare and has nothing to do with the phlebotomist. I'm sorry you had such a bad reaction and that your iron/ferritin levels were so low that you became anemic. I don't think it's fair to say that donating blood nearly killed you.
blood chilling on April 17, 2014:
Many blood drives today have no nurse or MD present (actually, I've never been to one that had), and have phlebotomists with exactly 6 days of training, offered free or cheaply on Saturdays. This is not dismissive or an insult; it is a fact.
I support donating blood, I simply don't support trusting someone with 6 days of medical training with your health. Neither do I consider someone with 6 days of training in ANYthing to be knowledgeable in in it.
Jennifer on April 17, 2014:
This is rare for a male donating blood. An indication of low ferritin levels is low hemoglobin. Therefore the hemoglobin test. One should never drive feeling dizzy. Please don't dismiss and put down blood bank workers. They are knowledgeable in the medical field and there are some nurses working there. There is a medical doctor, sometimes several, that over sees the organization. Everyone must be qualified in order to do the procedures. It was not professional for the employees to be discussing such things in front of donors. There is no alternative for human blood. Donors must continue to donate in order to have a supply for our community.
vprme on October 18, 2013:
I too gave blood on a reqular basis whenever blood drive came to my place of employment or at local blood drive location close to my home. I felt giving blood was a good thing to do that took a small bit of time. I recently gave blood at work, the needle felt as it was inserted wrong, as the pain was excruciating. I toughed it out as I was assured all was well. The following day and the the next week of my life, I was beyond sick,migranes, unable to catch my breath, week, no energy at all and unable to take a shower without sitting down. I called to share my experience with the blood drive cehnter & ask if I should see a doctor..who would undoubltedly tell me to go home and rest. I was out of work for 7 days! I had 9 days of PTO & had the time schedule off. Cancelled all my plans & was still very week for the following week when I returned to work. I will not give blood ever again. I believe the blood drive centers have no real regard to my health. I went from 100% healthy to sicker than I have ever been. I was sincerely scared and scarred from this experience.
donor rick65 on September 28, 2013:
There is a Registered Nurse in charge of the phlebotomists where I donate blood, but the minimum required hemoglobin or hematocrit for males is set too low and allows blood centers to take blood from male donors who are already anemic. So RN or not, they took blood from me when I (a male) was already anemic, which I found out only months after donating blood and after I was diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia by doing a HIPAA request to the blood center to get my hemoglobin level they measured with a fingerprick blood sample before they took my blood. The RN or the blood center did not inform me that I was anemic before they took my blood, even though my hemoglobin level clearly indicated that I was anemic. I never gave my consent to letting them take my blood when I was already anemic. The FDA requires blood centers to test for hemoglobin or hematocrit, and both of these are tests for anemia (there are 100+kinds of anemia, only one of which is from iron deficiency), not for iron levels as blood center staff sometimes erroneously claim. The FDA needs to require all blood centers to also do a test for iron levels such as ferritin, inform donors they are iron deficient or anemic, and stop allowing blood centers to take blood from anemic donors and make them even more anemic. Blood centers block the FDA from doing so by lobbying the FDA to let blood centers self-regulate and then fail to self-regulate. Blood centers create blood shortages by making their donors iron deficient or anemic and not informing or caring for donors that the blood centers made iron deficient or anemic, so donors stop donating or donate very infrequently.
Chris Hibbard (author) on September 18, 2013:
I wish that were the case here (there are no RNs where I donated). In the future, I hope they will decide such a precaution is necessary.
Other things you might ask your hematologist about:
* Some meds affect absorption, including proton pump inhibitors (for ulcers/ GERD)
* a small bleeding ulcer can cause low iron, even one that doesn't show up in a EGD (Upper Endoscopy). They may only bleed while you are digesting food, in which case, you can't see them during an endoscope.
Hope you find an easier way to stay at safe iron levels than IV!
Jo D Vasque from Upper Arlington, Ohio on September 18, 2013:
I think what people need to realize is that Chris was giving his story to inform others of "what" could happen.
Chris, I don't know where you live but I know that at our blood drives there is always an RN in charge of the phlebotomists. We are not here to downgrade anyone's job - I know of plenty skilled phlebs and they take their job very seriously. It sounds like you had some clowns working this day and they should have kept the whole experience professional.
I wanted to share my opinion and my story about frequent blood donating. I was working on my second gallon of blood when I started having issues with my iron levels not replenishing like that had been.
I was tired all the time and had blood work done by my family doctor. He found that my iron stores were completely depleted. He put me on iron supplements and I had already been eating iron enriched foods like spinach, beans, broccoli and even liver! The doctor told me in the mean time not to even think about donating any blood until my stores come back. I went back three months later and my levels were still in the same range. He had put me on a slow release iron and told him all the food I was eating as well. (Iron rich) I knew to take the pills with a shot of OJ as well to help in absorbtion.
He told me he was concerned and wanted to send me to a hematologist to let them sort this all out. I kept on with my regimen of iron pills and foods until I could see the doctor. The doctor wanted to rule out anything else that could be going on so made other appointments for me with a gastro doctor and gyno and in the meantime started me on IV iron - Venofer. (I felt great after!)
Other health issues have been ruled out and they have diagnosed me with malabsorption issues. I now will need to do IV iron probably for the rest of my life. They now give me dextran which is a strong form of iron that last longer in my system. I feel great afterwards and they are not sure why my body will no longer absorb iron.
Lisa on July 21, 2013:
I have been giving blood for years . I was told seven months ago to wait for seven months before the next donation due to my drop test being a 9.I gave blood for the blood drive and had a 12 on the test.(so they took my blood ). Now I just received a letter saying my ferritin level is a 8 and I may be anemic . I have been so tired, dizzy and sever headaches.
I was a healthy female age 45 walking 9 miles a day to getting tired just doing yard work or filing at work.
I wanted to do my part helping others not hurt myself.
Kelly Bartz on May 11, 2013:
I have been donating blood for years. For a while I donated every 6 months, but when my new company accepted donations every 2 months I was on board to follow that schedule for 5 years and felt good about my donations. About a year ago, they tested my iron at a blood drive and flagged me as having low iron. They came back less than 5 minutes later, tested my other hand, and said my iron levels were "good enough for a donation".
I went to meet a new physician about a month ago and she had a general blood test since I was a new patient and she noticed that I had general anemia. They ordered an iron panel for me that same day and the results later showed that I had iron-deficiency anemia and she told me not to give blood until I had things cleared with her.
I am 37, in good shape, and feel that I have a pretty healthy diet, but it does sting me that I loved donating blood and helping my fellow man but know it's in my best interest to not donate blood until further notice.. I can also say that the Red Cross allowed me to donate blood even when my blood pressure was a little high once or twice. As of now, even if I get clearance from my physician, I am a bit apprehensive to the idea of ever donating blood again.
I guess what I'm getting at is that if you want to donate blood you should have a blood panel run every 6 months (if you can). The Red Cross is out there to help people, but I have to question if they get as many donors as they can to get some type of kickback from the government by showing that they can keep the blood flowing. Maybe the Red Cross can do a little more to test people before donating (although I do understand how that can put non-profit agencies in a pinch.)
Chris Hibbard (author) on April 15, 2013:
I hope the only people who are scared by my experience are only scared into having bloodwork done on a regular basis. If I had yearly physicals (with a *doctor*), I would've known I wasn't able to safely give blood. The ferritin checks I was getting at the blood drives failed me--for whatever reason. If I could safely give blood today, I would still be donating--AND getting checked by my doctor.
Alvira on April 05, 2013:
Working at United Blood Services, I can tell you that our donors are just as important as our patients. Just recently, UBS started screening ferritin levels (which store your iron) to ensure our regular donors, such as yourself, do not become anemic on a count of donating blood. Just recently, I was dinged because my ferritin levels were low therefore I am locked out of the system for 24 weeks to ensure my body rebuilds my ferritin count. This is just one way we keep our donors safety in mind. Additionally, we will not take a donor without their iron being at a healthy 12.5. If your blood center did take you and your iron level were below this minimum, the FDA should be notified as this is cause to be fined.
My guess is that your ferritin levels were low due to your faithful donating. At times, your hematocrit can be fine but your ferratin could be low which could have caused your delayed reaction. My advice to you would be to take ferrous sulphate tablets 2x daily with orange juice to aid absorption. I would also suggest keeping away from caffeine and alcohol as it inhibits iron absorption. As always, broccoli, red meats, figs, raisins... All great aids in raising your iron levels.
On behalf of blood banks, I apologize for your experience. I hope this experience does not scare your readers and deter them from donating blood. Everyday we have patients who need blood which only generous donors can provide. Thank you again for saving so many lives with your past donations.
Beth on March 21, 2013:
Did you ever find the specific cause of your anemia?
Chris Hibbard (author) on March 20, 2013:
That is frightening information. Yes, the hospital did call me anemic, I think "acute anemia". I was so low they almost gave me emergency IV. The center where I formally donated told me they are considering raising their limits for donation, in fact the FDA is thinking of raising it for them (through regulation). The big take-away for me was: GET A PHYSICAL EVERY YEAR! I never would have become so anemic if I had bloodwork done in the past few years. I've only had 1 physical since I was a teenager...as a man in my 40s I need to start going every year! Speaking of which, this happened nearly a year ago...I need to make an apt :D
Jmillis2006 from North Carolina on March 16, 2013:
This is how our health care systems operate all on numbers, most of these organizations could care less about the people the serve. I will never give blood as I am already anemic , I give a big thumbs up to all those who do, but there needs to be stricter regulations, sad that it takes extreme events to have these regulations put in place.
donor rick65 on March 11, 2013:
Chris, I am very glad to hear you are doing much better! You had a harrowing experience!
I am a male, long-term blood donor who developed iron deficiency anemia from donating blood 5 times per year. After being diagnosed, I researched and found that not only can frequent blood donation cause or contribute to iron deficiency or anemia, but that the FDA also allows blood centers to take blood from donors who are already anemic without informing donors.
Chris, after your accident and when you were in the hospital, were you diagnosed with anemia, based on your hemoglobin or hematocrit level then? The hemoglobin or hematocrit test that blood centers are required to do to determine if a donor is eligible to donate blood is a test for anemia and is NOT an iron test, though blood center staff often erroneously tell donors that it is an iron test. A hemoglobin test measures hemoglobin levels and can only detect iron deficiency so severe that it has become anemia. There are about 300+ kinds of anemia, only one of which is from iron deficiency. Testing donors to be sure they have enough hemoglobin is essential because whole blood donation removes hemoglobin; it is hemoglobin that is important to get oxygen throughout the body. Iron is but one component of hemoglobin. Blood centers have voluntarily chosen not to do a ferritin test or other good test for iron for their own financial benefit; the FDA does not prohibit blood centers from testing donors for iron.
The FDA permits but does not require blood centers to take blood from already anemic donors, and blood centers choose to actually do so. I requested my pre-donation hemoglobin levels from my blood center for my two donations prior to being diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, and my hemoglobin levels indicated that I was already anemic then but they took my blood without informing me. Have you requested your hemoglobin records from your blood center for your donations prior to being diagnosed? If so, what were they?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which sets standards for anemia in the U.S., states that anemia is indicated by hemoglobin levels below 13.5 g/dL or hematocrit levels below 39.9% for males 18 years old and older, who live below 3,000 ft elevation and who smoke less than half a pack per day (see p. 12-13 in http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/rr/rr4703.pdf). However, the minimum that U.S. blood centers choose to use for determining blood donor eligibility is below these standards at 12.5 g/dL hemoglobin and 38% hematocrit, respectively; see http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/...
In this era of deregulation and letting businesses self-regulate, U. S. blood centers are nonprofit corporations (i.e., businesses that do not pay taxes) that demand that the FDA give blood centers the flexibility to self-regulate. However, blood centers choose to not self-regulate to reduce the harm to blood donors of iron deficiency or anemia with blood donation or taking blood from already anemic donors. Instead, blood centers blame the FDA for not setting higher standards... Nevertheless, blood recipients need our blood donations, and I donate for them.
They got me too !! on February 27, 2013:
Long story short: I've been giving blood for years. 48 year old normal guy in normal health. I started not being able to breathe playing ice hockey. Took my doc years to find the cause. My hospital's lower limit for Ferritin is 22 ng/ml. When my doc finally tested for iron, I was at 11 ng/ml. I was kind of peeved at my doc. But he said he had never seen low iron in a guy before as healthy as I was!! (We thought it was asthma at first.) So he's off the hook, but ... I never failed the hemoglobin test the blood donation place does. Go figure. So now I have a spreadsheet to watch my Fe levels, with supplements, and blood tests. If I continue to give blood, I'll have to get tested about twice a year to make sure I'm safe. I have since figured out that I have to be above 50 ng/ml to not have trouble breathing under heavy exertion.
Chris Hibbard (author) on November 15, 2012:
I tend to agree with you, Kathy. If this happened very often, I'm sure they'd have some real litigation on their hands. On the other hand, you may have visited a blood collector I've never been to; I left out their name and my location on purpose; I don't want to cause them a shortage of donations, just inform donors to be wise and get your blood work done at your yearly physical. I would have had no problems if I was getting annual blood work done by an actual doctor.
Kathy on November 14, 2012:
That's one in a million, I bet. The time I went to donate blood they turn me down because my iron was a little bit low.
It's sad what happened to you, I would have been very angry, upset. Thanks God nothing major happened to you.
Chris Hibbard (author) on August 30, 2012:
Thanks for your concern BR, I'm back on track so far, back up to healthy #s all around after taking iron supplements and now off them. Will get tested after being off them to see if I hold healthy #s w/o supplements, then finally, if I can donate again, and rebuild WITHOUT supplements. One thing I WON'T do is trust the blood collector to check my iron for me: I'll donate and see *my* Dr .afterward for the first year.
br350 on August 29, 2012:
Chris, thanks for this. I came across your post after typing in 'wiped out after donating blood.' I just donated this afternoon after a prior donation in late May. Same as last time, I feel pretty tired doing simple things right now. I went to the mall to do some shopping and eventually just left after about an hour as just walking the mall was leaving me tired.
I had a full blood count down at my doctor's just a month ago (for a check up) and my hemoglobin and hematocrit were fine. The hemoglobin machine clocked me in at 13.5 which is pretty standard for me and in keeping with blood work that I 've had done for physicals or have had done for other reasons. It's disturbing to know you were so low in iron and got accepted for donation.
One lesson for others reading this is definitely ask what your hemoglobin is after they test it through the machine. You should never donate blood without this information being TOLD to you. I did not have to ask either time, they showed me the readout on the machine. That being said, yes, most people have too much iron in their blood, especially men, since they do not lose it through monthly menstruation.
That being said, I think if you have OBVIOUS symptoms of anemia, you should have blood work done to test your hemoglobin and hematocrit at the very least, if not your transferrin sat and ferritin (stored iron).
I used to donate all the time in my 20's. I'm now 45 and had not donated for about 15 years until this past May. I guess it takes a little longer for me to feel fully recovered after donating and I think I will cut back to 3 times/yr max. Last time I donated in May, I felt tired after working out for about a week after donating. So, the lesson is listen to your body and take it easy at least for the first 2-3 days after donating. And like you said Chris, if you already are feeling symptoms of fatiguing easily, loss of energy, cold all the time, tingling and pins and needles, it's probably a good idea to go to your primary before donating.
I'm sorry you had that experience Chris and I hope they get it under control for you. It's a bit unusual for a man to have low stored iron (or serum iron) short of an occult bleed, so I hope they're investigating what the cause of that is. Have you received answers?
Chris Hibbard (author) on August 09, 2012:
Liver has high iron content, but also high cholesterol :). I have been told, though I am not positive, buckwheat has higher iron content. My blood specialist told me neither has enough iron to help me, I need quite a bit more, either pills or IV. I go in this month to see how if his plan to get me back to normal is working so far :D
Andrew on August 08, 2012:
i donated blood on the 5th of july and have been weak for several weeks and what i found was that i needed the ferritin of liver (grass fed here in tasmania, australia)
haem iron in red meat is not enough, one needs ferrtin and liver is the best source of that!
in the usa of course it's not so easy to get good quality grass fed liver?
Chris Hibbard (author) on July 18, 2012:
Spot on, Andrew. Those with long-term anemia have problems with energy and even with motivation. Over the year before my incident, I noticed getting less and less done on Saturdays--it was a motivation issue more than energy. I wrote it off to the marathon heat wave we were going through, and never thought there was a medical reason.
Beware though: more Americans have TOO MUCH iron than too little--it's why they stopped putting them in "normal" multi-vitamins. Iron Toxicity is dangerous.
Iron supplement overdose is the LEADING CAUSE of FATAL POISONINGs for children under 6.
Excuse the "all-caps rage" there, I really wanted that info to stand out :D
Andrew on July 15, 2012:
that link didn't come out so here's a tiny url one to the same
Chris Hibbard (author) on July 14, 2012:
Exactly Andrew! I think the future of blood donation has more strict measures for donors, as the blood center nearest me hinted they're already considering. Ferritin may be a more costly test, but it'll "cheapen up" after they implement it across the country. I hope FDA/AMA will recommend this soon. As a multiple-gallon donor, who hopes to donate again someday, I believe we deserve this level of safety.
My state is almost entirely serviced by donors; I believe there are only 2 blood banks left who purchase blood. CA as a law against buying blood; they're donor-supplied as well. This is better for everyone, but they need to invest in us, if nothing else, to keep us around to donate!
Andrew on July 14, 2012:
Ah Ha !
'Canadian Blood Services' advise
"How is iron measured?
The amount of iron reserves can be estimated by measuring ferritin levels. Ferritin levels are not measured on blood donors. Your fingerstick hemoglobin test may be normal, even if your iron reserves are low. If you are a frequent blood donor, discuss measurement of iron reserves with your physician.
Andrew on July 14, 2012:
Good article thanks Chris!
I think the problem is they don't test for ferritin (blood stores of iron) and rely too much on haemoglobin, but haemoglobin can be within the normal range but ferritin too low !
They get our blood free, why can't they provide this necessary test ?
Chris Hibbard (author) on June 29, 2012:
Glad you got checked out Devon! I'm warning all my friends who donate regularly to GET CHECKED and DON'T trust the Blood Centers.
I finally got some answers back from the blood center where I used to donate, they told me they're looking at raising their min requirements to donate, and federal (FDA? AMA?) regulations might even require it soon. This is good news for donors!
Devon on June 28, 2012:
I tried to give blood 2 weeks ago and was turned away for low iron. This would have been my third donation of blood in a year at the age of 40(fear of needles)
The first time they had to check my haemoglobin levels after I failed the drop test but it was ok and I gave blood.
The second time they were running late and I was the last one to donate. He did the drop test and after shacking it a while he said it was fine and rushed me through.
The last time the lady was really lovely (no rushing) My blood just wouldn’t drop in the solution and when they checked a blood sample it failed as my haemoglobin level was slightly low (should be 125 and it was 121 ) I was told it was not at a level to worry about and there was no need to see the doctor. She said to make sure I ate iron rich foods and I would probably be ok to donate next time. I made my next appointment and went home.
This week I decided to go to the doctors and ask for a general check up after feeling unwell for what seems like weeks. I was concerned about the pins and needles I had been experiencing in my hands and feet along with dizziness, itchy skin, shortness of breath and complete exhaustion that just made me want to cry, I feel so emotional and fuzzy headed ! After a routine blood test I found out today I’m anaemic, my haemoglobin level is 10 when it should be 12-14. I’m waiting to see the doctor to discus my results.
Giving blood is a fantastic selfless way of giving back, but it doesn’t suit everyone.
Chris Hibbard (author) on April 30, 2012:
@Dreamer, I omitted my location and the name of my blood center for legal reasons. I *do* plan to send this to the blood center after I get out of the hospital (had to be re-admitted for an infection growing in an IV site). You're absolutely right, they need to know.
The people running the Blood Centers in our country need to be motivated to collect enough blood to meet our needs, but it must be balanced with donor health as well.
DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on April 29, 2012:
Amazing! Everyone needs to know this and it should be sent to the blood donation center for the staff there to see!
Jack Underhill on April 28, 2012:
good to know!