When tragedy strikes, people want to help. They want to lend a hand, or in many cases, an arm. Giving blood is often the first thing volunteers do to help their fellow man. But other than knowing that you’ve helped fill a need, there might also be some benefits to your health when you roll up your sleeve and donate blood.
“There are some studies that suggest, although they are not confirmed, that there may be some cardiovascular benefits for middle-aged men who donate blood on an occasional basis,” said Walter Linz, MD, Director of Scott & White Healthcare Transfusion Medicine, Aphaeresis Medicine & Blood Donor Center.
An American Medical Association study suggests that this benefit has something to do with the level of iron in a person’s blood. When there is a buildup of iron—which is a natural component of blood—it can contribute to heart disease. Donating blood reduces the amount of iron in the blood, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.
Dr. Linz said there’s also a theory that donating can keep the blood from becoming sludge-like.
“There’s an optimal viscosity for blood flow, and if you have too much blood, the blood sludges,” he said. “And sludging of blood would allow a higher chance of thrombosis, which is clotting that obstructs the flow of blood.”
But, the possible health benefits shouldn’t be the primary reason why people should donate, said Dr. Linz.
“For people who need blood or platelets, there’s really no other option,” he said. “If they need blood, they need it emergently.”
Having ample donated blood supplies is an important part of treating patients on a regular basis, and is crucial in a tragedy like the one that took place in West.
“When those people come in, there’s no time to collect blood,” Dr. Linz said. “Whatever you have on your shelf is what you’ve got.”
The need for healthy, willing donors is never ending, the doctor said. The Scott & White system needs about 1,500 to 1,600 units of red blood cells per month to effectively treat patients.
And as we enter the summer months, Scott & White and other healthcare facilities around the country will enter a time when blood donations wane dramatically.
“During this time people are on vacation and doing other things, and they just don’t think about donating,” Dr. Linz said.
But you can reverse all that by sacrificing a little of your time to donate blood.
“If everyone who could donate blood would donate just two or three times a year, most of the blood shortages would really be a thing of memory,” he said. “There’s only a small group of people who come on a regular basis. Others come in droves when there’s a crisis, which we’re grateful for. But it would be nice if we could get a steady stream of donors.”
Click here to find out more information about donor criteria, how often you can donate and how you can donate in your area.
“The need for blood is relentless,” Dr. Linz said. “And [patients] rely on people’s willingness to come and donate blood.”
Find a location near you to donate blood today.
About the author
Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.