Donor health and safety

Safety is paramount in everything we do, because lives depend on it. Canada’s blood supply is recognized as one of the safest in the world, and the health and safety of the donors who contribute to that vital resource are equally important to us.

Prior to or during your appointment to donate blood, plasma or platelets, you will be asked to read a brochure with important health and safety information. During your appointment you will be asked to confirm you have read and understood it. You will be able to ask any questions. The brochures are also available at the links below, followed by answers to a variety of questions about blood donation safety. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, contact us at 1 888 2 DONATE or email us.

What you must know to donate blood
What you must know to donate plasma and platelets

Frequently asked questions about blood donation safety

What are the risks of donating blood, plasma or platelets?

Donating blood, plasma and platelets is very safe for eligible donors. Below are some examples of reactions experienced by a small number of donors, with information about prevention and treatment. Serious adverse reactions to blood donation, or donation of plasma or platelets, are rare.

Reaction

Recommended preventative action or treatment

Allergic reaction to materials

  • Tell us if you are allergic to latex, the powder used in medical gloves or the skin disinfectant used to clean the skin where the needle goes in. We can adapt our procedures to prevent an allergic reaction. A rash is a common sign of an allergic reaction.
  • After you arrive home, remove the pressure bandage and wash the donation area with soap and water to prevent a rash.

Arm pain or numbness

  • If you experience pain or discomfort from the needle beyond the initial pinch at injection, alert a team member. Donation should not be painful.
  • After you leave the donor centre, consult a health care provider if you have arm pain, tingling or numbness that worsens or is concerning to you. Please also report those symptoms to us at 1 888 2 DONATE.

Develop a bruise or redness at the needle site

 

  • To prevent bruising, avoid lifting anything heavy (particularly with the arm you used to donate) for about 24 hours after donation.
  • Apply ice on and off if there is swelling
  • Use acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain
  • Consult a health care provider if a bruise develops with increasing pain, swelling, tenderness, redness or onset of fever. Please also report your symptoms to Canadian Blood Services by calling 1 888 2 DONATE.

Feel faint, dizzy and/or nauseated; faint and/or have muscle spasms

 

Before your donation

  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before your donation
  • Have a good meal the day of your donation and drink plenty of fluids
  • Drink 500 mL of water or juice immediately before your donation and eat a salty snack. NOTE: While COVID-19 pandemic precautions are in place, we’ve suspended pre-donation salty snacks and beverages in donor centres, so please bring your own to consume right before you enter our site.

During your donation

  • If you are donating blood, doing muscle tensing exercises can help you to feel well during your donation.
  • Alert staff if you feel dizzy or unwell at any time during your visit. Symptoms such as anxiety, sweating and nausea are “pre-faint” signs and staff are trained to help. They may apply a cold compress to your forehead, elevate your feet, or take other measures depending on your symptoms.

After your donation

  • Rest on the bed until a staff member indicates you can leave. You will be asked to rest for at least two minutes.
  • You are encouraged to stay in the refreshment area for about 15 minutes to re-hydrate and have a snack. If you feel faint, sit down and rest for a few minutes with your head between your knees or lie down. Alert staff that you feel unwell, and remain seated.
  • If you feel faint while driving after your appointment, pull over safely and park. Resume driving only when fully recovered or call for help.
  • Drink plenty of fluids such as water or juice throughout the rest of your day after donating, and avoid alcoholic beverages which are dehydrating.
  • Avoid strenuous activity for six to eight hours after donating. This can contribute to dehydration and a drop in blood pressure that can cause lightheadedness or fainting.
  • Jobs that expose you to risk in the event of a faint (such as driving a bus or operating heavy equipment) may require some time off after donation.

After your appointment, if you faint and symptoms persist, get worse, or are concerning to you, consult a health care provider. Please also report your symptoms to us by calling 1 888 2 DONATE.

Plasma and platelet donors may experience unusual symptoms such as tingling around the mouth, chills, heaviness in the chest, difficulty breathing, chest pain, back pain or general discomfort.

  • Alert a team member if you experience any of these symptoms (which can occur due to additives in the solution used to return your red blood cells). They may slow down the procedure and/or give you calcium tablets.

Rare adverse effects

See “Can donors ever experience serious harm related to blood donation?” and “What can I do to minimize risks of donating blood?” in this list of frequently asked questions.  

Can donors ever experience serious harm related to blood donation?

It is very rare for donors of blood, plasma or platelets to experience serious or lasting harm related to a donation. The rate of serious adverse reactions is less than one in 10,000 donations. Examples of serious adverse reactions include:

  • Lasting arm pain or numbness. The blood vessels in the arm are accompanied by nerves that can be injured by the needle during donation. Often, pain from such an injury will stop right after the donation, but in rare cases it may persist for a period of days or even months. Permanent disability related to nerve damage from a needle is exceptionally rare.
  • Infection at the site of the needle insertion. To prevent infection, the skin over the vein used for your donation is cleaned with disinfectant just before the needle is inserted.
  • Injuries related to falls due to fainting, such as a broken bone, dental injury or concussion. To prevent fainting, and related injuries, follow the recommendations detailed in “What are the risks of donating blood, plasma or platelets?” in this list of frequently asked questions.

Some severe complications happen much more rarely than once in 10,000 donations. These include complications related to puncture of an artery, when a needle is inserted into an artery instead of a vein. Arterial puncture happens very rarely and donor centre staff are trained to deal with this complication. The vast majority of those who experience it will suffer no lasting harm.

An exceptionally rare complication of plasma and platelet donation is development of an air bubble that blocks flow in a blood vessel. It is for this reason that the equipment continuously monitors the tubing for air bubbles. Canadian Blood Services has no recorded cases of this complication.

Donor centre staff are trained to spot signs of reactions and injury during donation, and to intervene appropriately.

What safety measures does Canadian Blood Services take to reduce the risk of harm related to donation?

Our eligibility screening helps protect the safety of our blood donors and our plasma and platelet donors as well as the safety of the blood supply. To be eligible, donors must be in general good health and meet the requirements for minimum body weight. At the donation appointment, we will check your hemoglobin to help reduce the risk of iron deficiency from donation, and your temperature to ensure you don’t have a fever (a sign of infection). We may also check your blood pressure.

When you donate blood, plasma or platelets, the needle used during your donation is sterile, used only once and then discarded. Our donor centre staff are also well trained to spot signs that you are unwell or that the donation is not proceeding as planned. The donor centre staff who oversee donations receive substantial classroom and practical training from Canadian Blood Services in addition to any prior training and experience in phlebotomy they may have.

Do blood donors become iron deficient?

Blood donors lose iron with each donation, which over time can lead to iron deficiency. Those most at risk are young donors (aged 17-25), menstruating females and frequent donors (twice a year for women and three time a year for men). But iron deficiency due to blood donation can be prevented.

If you donate more than twice a year, talk to your health care provider about checking your iron (ferritin) and taking iron supplements. Although we check your hemoglobin every time you donate, that fingerstick test may be normal even if your iron reserves are low. A diet rich in iron is also advised for all blood donors.

If untreated, iron deficiency can lead to anemia (low hemoglobin). Symptoms of anemia include fatigue and reduced exercise tolerance.

In donation of plasma and platelets, the red blood cells are returned to the donor during the donation process, reducing their risk of becoming iron deficient. However, iron deficiency may still occur over time from the loss of blood taken for testing purposes. If you donate frequently, ask your health care provider about taking iron supplements and the need to check your iron stores.

For more detailed information about iron and how donors can prevent iron deficiency, check our pages about iron and hemoglobin.

What can I do to minimize risks of donating blood?

There are many things donors of blood, plasma and platelets can do to help reduce the risk of adverse effects. Here are some top tips.  

  • Let us know if you are feeling dizzy or unwell at any time during your visit. 
  • If you experience pain or discomfort from the needle beyond the initial pinch when the needle goes in, alert a team member. Donation should not be painful. 
  • To help prevent fainting and injuries that can result from fainting, follow the targeted recommendations detailed in “What are the risks of donating blood, plasma or platelets?” in this list of frequently asked questions.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise or activity for 6-8 hours after donating.  
  • Avoid heavy lifting for 24 hours after donating, to prevent any new bleeding at the injection site and worsening of any bruise.  
  • While donating plasma or platelets, please alert a team member if you experience unusual symptoms such as tingling around the mouth, chills, heaviness in the chest, difficulty breathing, chest pain, back pain or general discomfort. Some of these symptoms can be alleviated by slowing down the procedure. 

After your appointment, consult a health care provider if: 

  • You faint and symptoms persist, get worse, or are concerning to you 
  • A bruise develops with increasing pain, swelling, tenderness, redness or onset of fever 
  • You have arm pain, tingling or numbness that worsens or is concerning to you 

We also ask donors to report such symptoms to us by calling Canadian Blood Services at 1 888 2 DONATE.  

For more information about preventing and treating adverse reactions, see “What are the risks of donating blood, plasma or platelets?” in this list of frequently asked questions.

How is Canadian Blood Services addressing the risk of COVID-19 at donor centres?

We have enhanced wellness measures in place at all our donor centres to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among donors, staff and volunteers at our sites.