You’ve no doubt often heard about people giving blood, and you may have donated yourself. But how much do you know about platelet donation and what’s involved, who’s eligible to give their platelets, how the process works, and more?
If you’re keen to learn more about and understand this specific medical procedure, read on.
What Are Platelets and What is Platelet Donation?
Platelets are the cells in our blood that help the blood to clot and stop us from bleeding. They’re small cell fragments that get made in our bone marrow and are always something blood banks and hospitals and the like need plenty of stock of. A platelet donation can help up to three adults or 12 children to be well.
If you donate platelets, the medical center you’re at will likely use an apheresis machine to separate out the platelets from the other components of your blood, such as plasma and red blood cells. After you donate your platelets, the center will immediately test and prepare to deliver them to a hospital or other place because the shelf life is short at only a few days.
Why are Platelets Important?
Due to their ability to form clots and stop bleeding, platelets are essential to treating people with traumatic injuries, chronic diseases (including those who don’t make enough platelets for themselves), and those who have been in an accident, undergoing surgery, or having an organ transplant. This part of the blood helps keep people alive while recovering from health issues and gives more strength to those going through a transplant or coping with a blood disorder.
In particular, though, platelet transfusions get conducted frequently to assist people battling cancer. When undergoing treatment for cancer, patients often end up with a low platelet count. A transfusion helps them to avoid facing life-threatening bleeding.
Who’s Eligible to Give Their Platelets?
To offer up your platelets, you’ll generally need to have A negative, A positive, or preferably AB negative blood so that a diverse array of recipients can use the product. You need to be at least 17 years of age, in good health, and with enough blood to safely donate (i.e., not anemic). You also need to be available to give up the 2 hours or so that the process requires.
You may be ineligible to donate platelets at any point or for a period of time if you fall into various categories. For example, you can’t give your platelets if you’re HIV positive, have cancer, have had a blood transfusion, are a hepatitis B or C carrier, have had or are currently getting treated for syphilis, or have ever injected non-prescribed drugs.
You may need to wait a few months before donating platelets if you’re pregnant, taking non-steroidal medications regularly (e.g., ibuprofen), or have traveled to some countries where there’s a heightened risk of catching a blood-borne disease like malaria. Plus, you’ll need to donate at a later date if you have new piercings or tattoos or if you’re having anal sex with a new partner or more than one person.
How Does it Work?
To donate platelets, you generally need to have given blood at some point before. During your initial donation, your blood will be tested, you’ll have a mini-physical exam, and have to answer some medical questions about your health and lifestyle. These procedures learn if your blood, including your platelets and everything else in it, is suitable for donation or not.
For a platelet donation specifically, the medical clinic you attend will likely use an apheresis machine. This machine draws blood from your arm once the practitioner inserts a needle into it and then separates the components of your blood. The device will keep just the platelets from the blood coming from your arm and return the rest of the substance to you.
The reason to separate the platelets out at the time of donation is that it allows you to give four to six times as many platelets as what hospitals and clinics, etc., would get from a more typical whole blood donation. Donating platelets takes around 90 minutes to two hours in total, which is significantly longer than donating whole blood.
Once your platelets have been extracted, the healthcare worker will store the cells at room temperature and ensure they’re kept agitated softly to stop them from clumping and becoming unusable. After you’ve had your platelets removed, you’ll need to sit still quietly for a time to ensure you’re okay and not too light-headed or anything.
Most centers provide donors with some refreshments such as juice and some cookies or a sandwich to give them a boost, too. You may need to take things easy for the rest of the day, too. Plus, stay well hydrated and snack as needed.
A platelet donation might be something you haven’t considered engaging in before, but if you’re open to the process, you can save many lives and feel good about giving back to the world in turn.
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