My school is having a blood drive and I am considering donating blood. Can you tell me more about the whole process and if it is painful?

Donating blood is an excellent way to help humankind. The demand for blood is steady and blood banks count on volunteers to meet the needs of accident victims and patients in need of transfusions.

Although the rules for donating blood may vary slightly from state-to-state, the general requirements are the same. In most states, the minimum age for donating blood is 17 (the minimum age is 16 in a few states, and most states require parental consent if you are under 18). Typically, the minimum weight requirement for donating blood is 110 pounds.

After arriving at the donation center, the first thing you'll do is fill out a screening questionnaire. The Red Cross works diligently to make sure that our blood supply is safe for everyone. You might be ineligible to donate blood if, for example, you've visited a handful of foreign countries or have certain medical conditions.

The next step is to test your blood's iron level, which requires a small pinprick. It hurts just a little, but it's no different that a typical blood count test you get during a physical (and it's probably less painful than the average paper cut).

To begin the blood collection process, you will either lie on a padded table or sit in a reclining chair. Your arm gets a cleansing with a special disinfectant and the needle slides into your vein, which feels like another pinprick. (I always find that by looking away when it's time to insert the needle, I feel it less.) From here, the pain for most is minimal or nonexistent. After about 10 to 12 minutes, once the donation bag reaches its required weight, you're done! The needle comes out, your arm gets a fresh bandage, and you'll have a few minutes to enjoy some refreshments like cookies and soft drinks, which helps the blood bank workers ensure that your blood-sugar levels stabilize and that you've replaced lost energy. It's not uncommon to feel light-headed at this point, so eat the cookies! They really do help.

The whole process takes about an hour, so before you know it you'll be heading back to Biology class to learn about your veins and arteries.

Here are some important tips to remember when donating blood:

  • Do not skip any meals before or after you donate. Your body needs extra energy to replace the blood you donated.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (water, orange juice, or a sports drink) all day long.
  • If possible, take it easy and relax for the rest of the day after giving blood.
  • If you play sports, ask your coach about his or her blood-donation policy. The evening after donating blood, you'll probably feel a little weaker during a practice or workout.
  • If you workout or lift weights after donating blood, you will be more likely to bruise in the arm that was used to donate.

And perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind: Donating blood is safe and helps other people.

For more information about donating blood, check out the following links: