Blood Components: Why Donating Red Blood Cells Is Important

You might already know that blood is made up of three main components. You have your red cells, platelets (or white cells), and plasma.

While many blood centers are in need of blood itself, that need is even greater specifically for red cells since it is the most transfused and commonly used component of received blood donations. And there is good reason for that.

A red blood cell is about 25,000 times smaller than a fine grain of sand when viewed under a microscope. It’s primary function is to carry the oxygen that keeps us alive throughout our blood streams distributing them to the cells of our bodies. It does this thanks to the hemoglobin which it also carries. Many blood centers want you to have a high iron level while in all actuality they are really referring to your hemoglobin. Hemoglobin allows the blood to carry up to 30 to 100 times more oxygen than it could have dissolved in the plasma by itself.

Red blood cell donations are important for a safe blood supply. In accidents, traumas, and surgeries, red blood cells are what is used for their oxygen-carrying attribute alone. It keeps the oxygen in the blood stream rich, which in turn is still being distributed by your blood stream to your brain. This is critical, because as long as your brain is still getting oxygen, you will still be alive. That is the reason this component is always in great need.

Is donating a red cell donation different from a whole blood donation?

Donating a Red Blood Cell donation is called an apheresis-style donation. It is very similar to a whole blood donation, but there are a few differences:

  • You get a smaller needle so it actually might be more comfortable for you.
  • You donate less often, even though the donation itself does take about 30 minutes longer than a whole blood donation. Donation interval times are about once every four months.
  • You are helping supply a much more frequently used component to the blood center.
  • You might have to meet higher weight and height requirements.
  • You will have to meet higher iron level testing requirements.
  • You can help save up to twice as many lives since two units of red cells are taken from the same amount of fluid.

Donating red blood cells isn’t for everyone, so you should check with your local center’s specific regulations on this type of donation.

What type(s) of blood donation(s) have you given before?