Can You Donate Plasma If You Have Epilepsy?


Matthew McClain

Epilepsy patients are not eligible to donate plasma due to the risks of triggering a seizure during the donation process as well as risks of injury if a seizure occurs. Even for those with well-controlled epilepsy, donation centers generally have policies against accepting donations from patients with seizure disorders.

Eligibility Requirements

Donating plasma can help save lives, but donation centers have health screening processes to ensure the safety of both donors and recipients. Epilepsy is often considered a disqualifying condition due to the risks involved.

1. Basic Requirements

To be eligible to donate plasma, individuals must generally be at least 18 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds, and pass a health screening checking:

  • Blood pressure, pulse and temperature
  • Medical history including all medications
  • Iron levels and risk of anemia

Donors must be in overall good health with no conditions that could be exacerbated by plasma donation.

2. Considerations for Epilepsy

For individuals with epilepsy:

  • Most donation centers have a blanket policy prohibiting donors with seizure disorders due to risks and liabilities involved
  • Even for those with infrequent, well-controlled seizures, risks of injury from a seizure occurring during the donation process are considered too high
  • The physical and mental stresses of donation, from needles to the reclined position, can potentially trigger seizures in susceptible individuals
  • Symptoms after donation like dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and lack of sleep could also pose risks for seizure activity
  • Centers screening on a case-by-case basis would still require a lengthy seizure-free period, often 5-10 years, before considering an epilepsy patient for donation.
  • More lenient policies tend to only accept donors with seizure disorders if they have been seizure-free while maintaining their full, normal lifestyle for an extended time.

Risks of Donation for Epilepsy Patients

While plasma donation may be possible for some people with exceptionally well-controlled epilepsy, it involves risks that must be considered and properly mitigated.

1. Risk of Injury from a Seizure

Even a minor seizure that causes the donor to fall out of the donation chair or hit their head could result in injuries. Donation centers want to avoid these risks and the potential liabilities involved. Most centers therefore have policies against accepting donors with seizure disorders.

2. Risk of Triggering a Seizure

Several aspects of the donation process pose risks of triggering a seizure in susceptible individuals:

  • Anxiety from needles, sights of blood and the reclined position can lower seizure thresholds.
  • Dehydration from fluid loss during donation may also increase seizure risks.
  • Electrolyte imbalances caused by citrate anticoagulant used during plasmapheresis have been shown to trigger seizures in some patients.
  • The physical and mental stresses of donation can reduce sleep and increase fatigue, exacerbating risks in epilepsy patients.

These risks are higher for those with uncontrolled or active epilepsy versus those who have been seizure-free for many years.

3. Complications After Donation

Symptoms that commonly occur after donating like dehydration, low blood pressure, electrolyte imbalances and fatigue can also worsen seizure risks in the hours and days following a donation. Conditions like headaches, nausea and lightheadedness triggered by donation are more problematic for epilepsy patients.

These potential complications provide further rationale for donation centers to generally avoid accepting donors with seizure disorders.

4. Risks Outweigh Benefits

For most people living with epilepsy, the risks of donating plasma likely outweigh any potential benefits. Those with a history of even well-controlled seizures face higher risks of injury, triggering and post-donation complications versus the general population.

Severe injuries or a donation-induced seizure could also potentially worsen a patient’s epilepsy condition over the long term. Therefore, extreme caution is warranted.

5. Screening and Eligibility Policies Reflect Risks

Policies at donation centers requiring lengthy seizure-free periods before considering epilepsy patients for donation, as well as detailed screening of their medical history, reflect the true risks involved even for those with exceptional control of their condition. Strict eligibility criteria aim to minimize – but cannot eliminate – the inherent risks faced by this patient population.

Safety Considerations

While epilepsy generally disqualifies patients from donating plasma due to risks, some centers may consider donations on a case-by-case basis for those with exceptionally well-controlled seizures. For these individuals, additional precautions can help maximize safety.

1. Lengthy Seizure-Free Period

Donation centers typically require epilepsy patients to be completely seizure-free for 5-10 years – while maintaining a normal lifestyle – before they will consider them for donation. This helps ensure their condition is fully stabilized and risks of triggering a seizure during donation are minimized.

2. Documentation from Neurologist

Donors should obtain documentation from their epilepsy doctor stating they have been seizure-free for the required period and, in their neurologist’s medical opinion, can safely undergo plasma donation. This provides centers with confidence in the donor’s ability to tolerate the procedure.

3. Have Someone Monitor You

The donor should arrange for someone – like a family member or friend – to be present during their entire donation to monitor for any warning signs and provide immediate assistance if needed. This extra set of eyes can help ensure the donor’s safety.

4. Know When to Stop

Donors should be prepared to stop the donation immediately if they experience any warning signs that a seizure may be imminent, such as an aura or other prodrome. Informing staff right away so they can end the procedure quickly and safely is critical.

5. Deferral if Needed

If an epilepsy patient does experience seizure symptoms during donation, they should be permanently deferred from future donations to protect their health. The health and safety of the donor must always take top priority.

With adequate precautions and open communication between the donor, medical professionals and donation staff, plasma donation may theoretically be possible – though remains risky – for extremely well-controlled epilepsy patients in exceptional situations.

Alternatives to Plasma Donation

While plasma donation is not recommended for most people with epilepsy due to risks, there are other ways epilepsy patients can contribute and help others.

1. Volunteering Your Time

Volunteering with epilepsy foundations, disability organizations or other non-profits is a great way to make an impact without risks to your health. You can:

  • Help at fundraisers and community events
  • Mentor or tutor others living with epilepsy
  • Provide administrative support
  • Visits patients in hospitals

Epilepsy organizations are often in need of volunteers and will accommodate any limitations.

2. Fundraising for Research

While you cannot donate plasma yourself, you can raise funds for epilepsy research through:

  • Organizing community fundraisers
  • Participating in charity walks or runs
  • Creating a personal fundraising page
  • Asking for donations instead of gifts for special occasions

Many resources are available to help you put on a successful fundraising campaign.

3. Monetary Donations

Consider making a financial contribution to:

  • Epilepsy foundations to support patient services and research
  • Blood and plasma donation centers to help cover the costs of plasma products
  • Medical research initiatives focused on epilepsy and seizure disorders

Even a small donation can make an impact. Every little bit helps support important causes.

4. Spreading Awareness

Share your epilepsy story on social media and with friends/family to:

  • Fight stigma by showing that people with epilepsy can lead full lives
  • Educate others about what epilepsy is really like and how they can help
  • Encourage others living with epilepsy that they are not alone

Sharing your story is free and can inspire others far and wide.

While plasma donation may not be an option, there are still many meaningful ways for people with epilepsy to contribute and make a difference through volunteering, fundraising, donations and spreading awareness.

While the need for plasma is great, the health and safety of donors – especially those with medical conditions – must come first. For most people living with epilepsy, the risks involved with plasma donation likely outweigh any potential benefits.

For the very small number of epilepsy patients who may qualify based on having completely stabilized seizure disorders, additional precautions like monitoring during donation, a rescue plan, and immediate deferral if needed can help maximize safety. But open communication with neurological specialists and careful medical judgement are crucial.

In general, people living with epilepsy are best advised to avoid plasma donation and instead find other meaningful ways to contribute their time, resources and voices to help others. With proper management of their condition and a focus on health and wellbeing, epilepsy patients can still make a positive impact in the world. Focusing energy on reducing stigma, raising funds for research, volunteering and spreading awareness are all valuable alternatives for those who cannot donate plasma themselves.

In the end, protecting the health and safety of people with medical conditions like epilepsy should take precedence over collection goals. With proper education, precautions and alternatives in place, epilepsy patients can feel empowered to help others in ways that work for their unique situation.

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