New ferritin testing program may help prevent low iron stores in donors

Gloved hand holding a tray of test tubes
To help donors stay informed of their iron stores, also known as ferritin levels, Canadian Blood Services will begin selective ferritin testing in January 2023. 

This January, Canadian Blood Services is taking steps to help donors manage their iron stores.

Whole blood donations result in some iron loss. Blood operators around the world, including Canadian Blood Services, are making efforts to address iron stores in blood donors.

Steps started in 2015, when Canadian Blood Services lengthened the blood donation cycle for donors registered as female, from every 56 days to every 84 days; and increasing the acceptable minimum hemoglobin levels for donors registered as male, from 125 g/L to 130 g/L.

Canadian Blood Services is taking the next step of testing ferritin levels in select blood donors. The intent is to enhance donor experience by taking proactive action to prevent iron deficiency anemia in donors.

Ferritin testing provides information about an individual’s iron stores. Iron is vital for making the red part of the blood called hemoglobin. If ferritin is low, it reliably indicates low iron stores and is a good predictor of who may develop anemia (low hemoglobin).

“We care deeply about donor wellness. By empowering our donors to maintain their iron health and prevent anemia, we hope to ensure our donors are able to continue to help patients through their generous blood donations for a long time to come,” says Dr. Aditi Khandelwal, Medical Officer at Canadian Blood Services.

If the results show the donor has low or high levels of ferritin, they will be notified and encouraged to follow up with their healthcare professional. Their test results will also be accessible on their Give Blood app or web portal profile.

Donors with low iron levels, will be asked to pause whole blood donation for six months to allow iron stores to recover. They will also be asked to cancel any upcoming appointments within the next 6 months.

Donors with elevated ferritin levels can continue donating if they meet eligibility criteria but are encouraged to consult with their doctor for further assessment.

“Affected donors are encouraged to participate in Canada’s Lifeline and donate in other ways while they wait, such as plasma, platelets, register as an organ donor or give a financial donation,” says Dr. Khandelwal. “They may also consider recruiting another blood donor to fill the need.”

Testing of donated blood will take place at our testing facilities. The first phase of this program will test selective donors registered as female, because they have a higher chance of having low iron. This is due to higher iron requirements from menstruation, prior pregnancies or lactation, and insufficient iron intake. Testing may eventually increase in frequency for donors registered as female and expand to testing donors registered as male.

We are grateful to our dedicated donors. For those who may need to pause their regular donation, we appreciate your understanding and co-operation. Taking care of your health can help ensure your continued support to Canadian patients.