A Look at the Different Types of Blood Donations

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When envisioning what a blood donation may look like, an image of what is called a ‘whole blood’ donation often comes to mind. In a whole blood donation, a donor will sit down, an IV needle will be inserted into his arm, and one pint of blood will be collected into a clear bag suspended above him. While it is the most common type of donation method, traditional whole blood donation is not the only method used to collect the lifesaving components of blood.

Apheresis Donations

Sometimes only certain parts of the blood, specifically the platelets and plasma, are donated. In those procedures, the rest of the blood (including the red blood cells) is reintroduced back to the donor once the platelets and plasma have been extracted. How? Through the use of an apheresis machine.

During a donation using an apheresis machine, an IV is inserted into the donor’s arm, as it is with whole blood donation. But, unlike with whole blood donations, the donor’s blood does not get diverted to a bag. Instead, the blood travels through the apheresis machine, where the required components are extracted, and the rest of the blood is then returned to the donor through the IV.

Blood platelets help prevent major blood loss in surgery, and they are crucial to organ transplant and cancer treatments. Just one platelet donation can be equivalent to up to six whole blood donations, according to the American Red Cross.

Another type of blood donation done using an apheresis machine is a double red cell donation. During this procedure, the donor’s red blood cells are extracted, but the rest of the blood, including plasma and platelets, is returned to the donor. In order to qualify to be a double red cell donor, more stringent requirements must be met, and the procedure takes about a half an hour longer than does a whole blood donation. But, double red cell donations play a critical role in maintaining the level of the national blood supply because it allows donors to give twice the amount of red blood cells.

Donations for a Specific Recipient

Some donations are made with a specific recipient in mind. For example, a patient can donate blood for his own use. This is called an autologous donation, and is done prior to surgery, for example. Since autologous donations are not subjected to the same testing as other donations, the blood is discarded if it isn’t used.

Another type of blood donation, called a directed donation, is one made to help a specific person, such as a family member. These donations are subject to the same strict requirements as other donations, so if the blood cannot be used by the intended recipient, it will be used to help other patients.


Blood and its components can be donated using a couple of different methods, and for a few different reasons. Whole blood donations, the most common, are used to aid in emergencies and surgeries, and even on the battlefield. Among other uses, platelets improve blood clotting and plasma helps prevent infections. So, whether it’s whole blood, platelets or plasma, every donation has a significant and positive impact on the lives of others.

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