The health benefits of donating blood

A few months ago, countries around the world commemorated World Blood Donor Day. This day is observed every year to raise awareness of the importance of blood donation, and the need for safe blood and blood products.

The theme this year was "Every blood donor is a hero", which recognises the priceless life-saving gift that is given by these blood donors every day.

If you have ever donated blood before, you should be commended for your "heroic" act, as your blood would have saved someone's life at some point.

If you have never donated blood before, there are several reasons you may want to consider doing so.

Apart from the altrustic aspect of helping to save someone's life, there are also health advantages to blood donation.

By contributing to someone's health, you are improving your own health as well. This article will look at some of the known benefits.

What your blood is used for

Before you choose to have your blood collected for your local hospital or blood bank, you may want to know what it will be used for.

Despite all the medical advances that science has given us, the one thing we cannot do is artificially manufacture blood. So, when a patient suffers severe blood loss, he/she needs a blood transfusion from donated supplies.

Generally, critical blood transfusions are needed in medical emergency situations, such as for women with pregnancy complications (ectopic pregnancy or haemorrhage before, during or after childbirth), people who have undergone major surgery, cancer patients, accident victims suffering from severe trauma, as well as children with severe anaemia.

Some people also need regular blood transfusions if they have blood disorders like thalassaemia, sickle cell disease or haemophilia (in the case of haemophilia, donated blood will be used to make clotting factors).

Blood banks, hospitals and NGOs are always organising blood donation drives because they need a regular supply of blood so that blood is available during any medical emergency.

The blood stored in blood banks and hospitals have a limited shelf life, and there may be times when the demand for blood supply is higher than normal, such as during festive and holiday periods (when there are more road accidents and most people are celebrating rather than donating blood).

Health advantages

Just the very act of donating blood will bring about a positive feeling. This is, no doubt, the most obvious personal benefit that you derive from donating blood - doing something good for others will make you feel good about yourself.

Donating blood can also get rid of excess iron in our body, which is unhealthy for us because excess iron can stimulate the formation of free radicals. These are compounds that are believed to cause damage to body cells and tissues, contributing to premature aging, heart disease and cancer.

Too much iron in the body has been linked to increased risk of heart disease. This is because iron oxidises cholesterol - a process that makes cholesterol even more harmful to the arteries.

As about half of our body's iron is stored in our red blood cells, one way to regulate the level of iron in the body is to donate blood habitually. Furthermore, studies have shown that donating blood regularly can be beneficial for the heart and circulatory system.

You do not need to worry that you will be "losing" blood when you donate. Yes, your blood cell count will reduce after you donate blood, but this will stimulate your bone marrow to replenish the supply by producing new red blood cells.

Of course, if your haemoglobin level is found to be low before you donate blood, you will be advised not to donate as this could cause you to become ill.

Another reason that will make women happy to donate blood is that it can burn calories! Of course, this does not mean that you should use it as a weight-loss method. It is simply a little bonus that you can use as motivation to get you to the next blood donation drive.

Are you a suitable donor?

The beauty of donating blood is that practically everyone can do it. You have to be above 18 and below 60 years of age, weigh no less than 45kg, have a haemoglobin count no less than 125g/dl, have a normal temperature and blood pressure, be free of disease and not have taken medicine in the last 48 hours before donating.

Sometimes, a person may have a certain condition that excludes him/her from being able to donate blood at that point in time. If you belong to any of these categories, you should not donate blood:

·Pregnant or lactating women, or those who have recently had an abortion.

·If you are on steroids, hormonal supplements or certain specified medication.

·If you have multiple sexual partners or are addicted to drugs.

·If you have had an infection like jaundice, rubella, typhoid or malaria.

·If you have undergone surgery in the previous six months.

·If you have consumed alcohol in the 48 hours prior to donation.

·If you are menstruating.

·If you have any systemic disease like heart disease, kidney disease, liver problems, blood disorders or asthma.

·If you are suffering from infections transmitted through transfusions like HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, etc.

Donating blood is not painful, does not make you sick, and will not give you "low blood". If you take the right precautions, such as eating a proper meal before donating, having a snack right after you donate, and avoiding exercise for 12 hours after donating, you will not suffer any adverse effects.

You can be a hero, just by giving this gift of life. Look out for blood donation drives in your community, nearby shopping mall or local hospital and sign up to be a hero today!

n Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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