Iron Levels and Blood Donation

As a generous blood donor, your health and safety are our main priority. Whether this is your first time donating or you have been donating for years, it is important to know how your hemoglobin level may be affected by donating blood and steps to follow to ensure you feel your best.

Why is hemoglobin important?

Hemoglobin is an iron/protein molecule in red blood cells that allows those cells to carry oxygen to tissues and organs. During the donation process we measure donors’ hemoglobin levels with a finger prick to ensure levels are high enough for a safe donation. Each time you make a blood donation, you lose some iron. If you lose iron faster than you can replace it through diet, you may become anemic. Many donors have adequate iron levels to donate blood safely, but frequent blood donors should be aware that blood donation may lead to low iron levels or anemia.

What are other causes of low iron levels?

  • Menstruation and pregnancy
  • Diets with low iron intake
  • Decreased iron absorption from certain medications
  • Disease of the digestive tract
  • Other types of blood loss (e.g. stomach ulcers, polyps)

What causes anemia?

  • Chronic disease such as diabetes, severe arthritis or kidney disease
  • Immune destruction of red blood cells
  • Acute blood loss
  • Vitamin deficiencies

 

What are the symptoms?

  • Fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Cold hands and feet

Do I need to see a physician?

LifeServe Blood Center cannot determine the cause of your low hemoglobin level. If you find at the time of your donation that you do have a low hemoglobin level and you are not a frequent blood donor, you may wish to have your hemoglobin level rechecked.

If you donate three or more times a year and do not have other causes of anemia or low iron levels, your low hemoglobin could be related to blood donation. Simply increasing the amount of high iron foods in your routine diet or taking iron supplements should restore your iron levels to normal during the next several months.

Examples of iron rich foods:

  • Red meat and liver
  • Tofu
  • Fish and shellfish, especially clam, oyster and shrimp
  • Spinach or other dark leafy vegetables
  • Peas, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans
  • White, red or baked beans
  • Iron-fortified cereals and breads

Consume adequate amounts of vitamin C to aid with iron absorption.

Can I continue to donate blood?

 

Absolutely! Approximately 10 percent of potential donors are not able to give blood at one time or another due to low hemoglobin levels. If your level is low, we encourage you to follow the steps above to increase your level prior to your next donation. If you received an abnormally low level and are symptomatic, please speak with your primary care physician before your attempt to donate again.

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