Though blood might look like a consistent fluid, the truth is that blood is made up of many different components that have different functions to keep the body alive and thriving. Many donor blood recipients don’t necessarily need everything contained in blood; they might need only a specific part of the blood to help boost their bodies’ ability to survive.
If you are considering donating your blood, you have the option of donating all or part of your blood to help those in need. To better understand your options, you can read on to learn more about what components of blood can be donated and what they do:
More than half of your blood content is plasma, which is a light-yellow fluid that carries other components of your blood around your body. Plasma contains water, salt and enzymes as well as various critical components for maintaining physical health, such as antibodies, clotting factors and proteins.
Plasma donations tend to be a bit more involved than the donation of whole blood. Instead of merely drawing blood from your arm, donation centers will draw blood and separate out the plasma using an apheresis machine. Then, the non-plasma parts of your blood will be returned into your body, usually through your other arm. Plasma donations can take up to two hours, as the cycle of drawing blood, separating plasma and returning blood is repeated over and over.
Once received, plasma donations can be further separated to isolate its different valuable components for different uses. For example, antibodies contained in plasma can be concentrated to help patients fight autoimmune disorders, and certain proteins help sufferers of rare and chronic health conditions. For this reason, plasma is often called “the gift of life.”
White Blood Cells and Platelets
Your blood contains many components critical to the immune system, helping the body maintain defenses against external threats like bacteria, viruses, allergens, parasites, poisons and more. Perhaps the most important component of the immune system, and the component capable of donation, is white blood cells.
White blood cells help identify and fight various diseases. There are different types of white blood cells, such as granulocytes, monocytes and lymphocytes, which are sometimes identified by names like T cells and B cells. When white blood cells encounter pathogens, they absorb them to neutralize them, and they initiate the process of developing additional antibodies to defend against the threat in the future.
Cancer patients are the most common recipients of white blood cell donation. Because cancer treatments often ravage the immune system, donor white blood cells can help keep patients safe from simple infections. Not every blood donor is capable of donating white blood cells; often, cancer patients need to find compatible donors, who can go through intensive screening processes to ensure their blood is totally safe. If a donor is deemed acceptable, they will donate using an apheresis machine, as described in the plasma section above.
Platelets are essential in clotting to protect the body from losing excess blood. Platelet disorders can be devastating, causing the body to hemorrhage and cells to die. Many diseases, like cancer, cause the body to produce insufficient platelets, and other conditions, like traumatic injury, can result in an emergency need for platelets to speed up the clotting process and prevent excessive bleeding.
Unfortunately, platelets are extremely delicate, and they have a frustratingly brief lifespan. While red blood cells can be stored safely for up to 42 days, or six weeks, platelets barely last five days, so blood banks are in near-constant need for platelet donations. You can make a platelet donation once per week, up to 24 times per year, to help those in your community survive and thrive.
Red Blood Cells
Red blood cells comprise around 40 percent of blood, giving blood its characteristic color. The primary function of red blood cells is to carry oxygen from the lungs to cells around the body and to retrieve carbon dioxide, a waste material, for the lungs to exhale. When the body lacks a sufficient amount of red blood cells, other cells become less efficient and can start to die.
Most blood transfusions involve red blood cells. Patients typically receive red blood cells to replace those lost during certain health procedures, like surgeries. If you are in especially good health, you can donate extra red blood cells with a power red donation, which separates the red blood cells using an apheresis unit and returns the other components of your blood back into your body.
Finally, as the name suggests, whole blood donations involve giving all of the components listed above. Because whole blood donations do not require apheresis, they require less than 10 minutes of your time, and they can help all manner of patients in all manner of medical situations.
Donating blood is an altruistic service to your community. The sooner you set up a recurring blood donation — regardless of whether you are donating plasma, platelets, whole blood or anything else — the more you can do to keep everyone around you healthy and safe.
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay