Common myths and facts about donating blood

Myth: It takes a long time to donate blood.

Fact: The entire blood donation process takes just over an hour, including registration, the blood donation itself, and post-donation refreshments and recovery. The actual donation typically takes just 8 to 10 minutes.

Myth: It’s painful to donate blood.

Fact: Beyond the quick pinch of the needle, you shouldn’t feel any pain. You may experience some dizziness or lightheadedness during or after your donation, but remember you can talk to one of our staff members at any time if you feel uncomfortable or worried. You can also ask for the donation to be stopped at any time if you feel ill.

Myth: Donating blood causes long-term side effects.

Fact: It is very rare for blood, plasma or platelet donors to experience serious or lasting harm related to a donation. The rate of serious side effects is less than one in 10,000 donations.

Myth: I don’t have a rare blood type, so my donation isn’t really needed.

Fact: No matter what your blood type is, it is always needed and valuable.

Myth: I’m too old to donate.

Fact: There is no maximum age for donating blood. You can start donating at age 17 and then keep on donating for the rest of your life, so long as you meet the other eligibility requirements. 

Myth: I’m on medication, so I can’t donate blood.

Fact: Most prescribed medications do not exclude you from donating blood. If you are currently taking a medication and want to know if you are eligible to donate, review our list of acceptable and unacceptable medications here. If your medication is not listed, please call and speak with one of our trained health professionals at 1 888 2 DONATE (1-888-236-6283).

Myth: I have low iron, so I can never donate blood.

Fact: The reasons for low iron can be assessed in consultation with your health care provider, but low iron can usually be replenished by supplementation. Iron is a critical building block of hemoglobin, so we do suggest that you ensure your iron levels have recovered before donating. At the time of each donation, your hemoglobin level will be tested by finger prick to ensure it’s safe for you to give blood. If your hemoglobin is too low, you will not be able to donate that day — but you can always re-book your appointment for a future date. For some of our regular donors, we also check iron levels by testing for ferritin. More information about this testing is available here.

Myth: I haven’t been able to donate in the past, so there is no sense in trying again.

Fact: Donor eligibility criteria and a person’s ability to donate can change over time. Even if you can’t donate today, you may be able to do so in the future — and donors who were previously deferred might now be eligible to donate. Learn more about recent changes to donation criteria.

Myth: I can’t donate if I’ve travelled or lived internationally.

Fact: For some countries to which prospective donors travel, there may just be a waiting period before donation. Your waiting period before donating whole blood or platelets will depend on the length of your stay in certain regions. If you are planning a trip outside of Canada or have just returned, find out how your destination might affect your ability to donate. Visit our travel and living internationally page for more information.

Myth: I can’t donate if I have tattoos or piercing.

Fact: You just need to wait three months after getting a new tattoo or piercing to donate blood.

Myth: If I’m ineligible to donate whole blood, I can’t donate other blood products.

Fact: Even if you can’t donate whole blood, you may be able to give other life essentials.

Although people who have had malaria, for instance, are not eligible to donate whole blood or platelets, they may be able to donate plasma (used to manufacture lifesaving medications), stem cells, organs and/or tissues.

To learn more about your eligibility, please call us at 1 888 2 DONATE (1-888-236-6283)

Three brothers and their parents standing together, smiling and looking at the camera

Just the fact you take the time out of your day, and you decide to go to a place where they’re going to put a needle into your arm, and it has no benefits to your personal self, I think that’s incredible.”   

Nahomie, Mother of two children living with sickle cell disease.

Man sitting in a chair, smiling at the camera

“It’s very important to have a bigger pool of diverse donors. There are a lot of people like me who need blood. Right now, I need seven to 12 units of blood every four weeks.”

Ulysseblood recipient, living with sickle cell disease. 

A mother with her hand on her son's shoulder, standing side by side smiling at the camera

“They told us that my son had a three-year growth delay and the only way for them to help him catch up was to put him on a blood transfusion program for an entire year. He received transfusions every month, regardless of if he had a crisis or not. It was a miracle treatment for him. He grew like a mushroom.”

Bibaa caregiver and mother of son living with sickle cell disease.

Blood donation and eligibility FAQs

Am I eligible to donate blood or plasma?

That depends on a few things, but the easiest and quickest way to find out is by taking our eligibility quiz. The more donors, the better!  

For more information, you can also download our blood donation cheat sheet.

Are blood types related to ethnicity?

Certain rare blood types are uniquely found only in people of a certain ancestry or ethnic background. That’s because red blood cells carry inherited markers called antigens on their surface. These antigens determine a person’s blood type. There are more than 600 known antigens in addition to the well-known antigens for ABO typing.

Because blood type is inherited, people with complex blood needs often rely on donors of similar ancestry. Recipients with complex or ongoing needs often have better chances of finding a good match and having a better outcome if they receive blood products with similar genetic make-up to their own.

There is an urgent need for greater ethnic diversity within Canada’s Lifeline, as many ethnic groups are currently underrepresented in our blood donor base and stem cell registry.

How often can I donate blood?

Men can donate whole blood every 56 days (approximately once every two months) and women every 84 days (approximately once every three months). Plasma can be donated every six to 14 days, depending on the donor program. 

How old do I have to be to donate blood?

Anyone 17 years or older may be eligible to donate. There is no upper age limit.

Are donations of rare blood types always needed?

Absolutely. When a blood transfusion is required, time is of the essence. But if someone in need has a rare blood type, finding a match can be hard. Therefore, a strong pool of rare blood donors is needed to ensure matching blood is available to patients whenever and wherever it’s needed.

Can I donate blood if I’ve had malaria?

Unfortunately, no. The parasites that cause malaria can remain dormant for decades. This means that no matter how much time has passed since the disease was active, there remains a small chance that someone who had a malaria infection in the past may still carry malaria parasites in their blood. The person may not be aware and may feel completely well. However, even one malaria parasite in a unit of donated blood can cause malaria in the blood recipient. Blood recipients are often ill already, and their immune system may be compromised, so they can experience severe symptoms if they get malaria. Another challenge is that there is currently no test available to reliably detect low quantities of malaria parasite in donated blood.

For this reason, people who have had malaria are currently not eligible to donate whole blood or platelets. However, they may still be able to  donate plasma which is used to manufacture lifesaving medications, as well as stems cells, organs and/or tissues.  

We’re committed to reviewing and updating eligibility criteria and removing barriers to donation, as patterns of disease, testing platforms and research continues to advance. Ongoing work includes evaluating possible alternatives to deferrals for people who have lived in or travelled to malaria-endemic regions.

More information about malaria and blood donation can be found here.

Can I donate blood while menstruating?

Yes. Menstruating doesn't affect your ability to donate.

Do you offer interpretation services in your donor centres?

We’re working on it. Our donor questionnaire is currently available in English and French, and we operate in French at selected donor centres. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide language interpreters at this time, unless we are booking appointments for large groups of donors (minimum 20 people).

Health Canada requirements dictate that only Canadian Blood Services screeners and certified language interpreters are allowed in screening booths with donors.

We recognize the need to further develop our translation services, and we’re actively exploring options to offer more multilingual services.

Can I donate blood or plasma?

Before you book, take our eligibility quiz

Book now to donate blood and plasma

Am I eligible?