Can People with Diabetes Donate Blood?
Every two seconds in the United States someone needs donated blood. If you have any type of diabetes, you’ve probably wondered how picky the American Red Cross (ARC) really is when it comes to the amount of glucose in donated blood.
For every new donor, the ARC takes you through a screening process to ensure it is safe for you (and for the recipients) to donate blood. There are a variety of eligibility requirements and these vary depending on what part of the blood (or plasma) you’re donating!
It’s critical that you answer questions during your screening process honestly and thoroughly.
Here, we’ll look at whether having diabetes—or other health conditions—prevents you from being able to donate blood.
Simply having diabetes does not exclude you from donating blood.
Simply being diagnosed with diabetes does not mean you cannot donate blood in the United States.
There are actually a huge variety of factors that can affect any person’s ability to donate blood, regardless of having diabetes.
- You weigh less than 110 pounds
- You are at least 16 years old (or 17 in some states)
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding
- You’ve given birth within the last six weeks
- You have low iron levels
- You received a tattoo or piercing within the last year
- You have any type of cancer
- You have been in remission from cancer for less than one year
- You have a history of using recreational intravenous drugs
- You have a history of using intravenous steroids
- You have HIV/Aids, lung disease, heart disease, Lyme disease…
When it comes to diabetes, there are a variety of specific details to consider before you head to your nearest donation center.
Your A1c and blood sugar levels don’t have to be perfect
The ARC does not have any specific requirements when it comes to your A1c or blood sugar level at the time of donation. However, they do state on their website: “Donors with diabetes who take any kind of insulin are eligible to donate as long their diabetes is well controlled.”
Unfortunately, some other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, do not allow blood donations from anyone taking insulin.
The ARC has determined that high blood sugar levels in donated blood means the blood quality decreases in the days or weeks after donation. This means that managing your blood sugar levels as carefully as you can on the day you donate is very important. Near-normal blood sugar levels—between 70 to 140 mg/dL—before and during blood donation make your donation more useful.
Only two types of diabetes medications can exclude you from donating
- Bovine insulin, derived from cows, poses a risk of carrying Mad Cow Disease. Even if it’s been years or decades since taking bovine insulin, you will not be eligible to donate.
- Warfarin is a blood thinner often used to treat high cholesterol, but it can also help lower blood sugar levels. It isn’t safe or allowed to donate blood while taking a blood thinner.
You should never stop taking a prescribed medication just to change your eligibility to donate blood.
Donating blood might worsen certain diabetes complications
Like your diabetes diagnosis, a complication diagnosis doesn’t automatically exclude you from donating, but it should be discussed carefully with your healthcare team. The most common complication that could play a role in your decision to donate blood is retinopathy.
If you are being treated for any stage of retinopathy and other serious eye conditions, donating blood can temporarily change the blood pressure in your eyes. Talk to your healthcare team before donating blood if you are managing any type of diabetes-related complication.
Donating blood can affect your A1c
Donating blood actually increases red blood cell production—and this can lead to a falsely lower A1c result in the months after you donate.
Your A1c is really a measurement of the amount of glucose attached to your red blood cells.
The normal lifespan of a red blood cell is about three to four months. When you speed up the production of new blood cells with blood donation, it means your A1c is measuring the amount of glucose attached to younger cells.
Does this mean you shouldn’t donate blood frequently? Certainly not. But do keep in mind that your actual A1c may be higher than what your results are saying.
The bottom line
Yes, you can donate blood, but like everyone else considering donating, you’ll need to review the eligibility requirements closely.
Donating blood once or regularly is a wonderful way to contribute to the lives of people in need! In fact, people with diabetes can also donate organs after death—but we’ll get into that another time!