Plasma donation is a vital process that helps save lives. Plasma contains proteins that help fight diseases and is used to make lifesaving medicines. However, donating plasma also means meeting certain health requirements, including having adequate iron levels. So what happens if you want to donate plasma but have low iron?
What Is Plasma and Why Is It Donated?
Plasma is the largest component of human blood, making up about 55% of total blood volume. It is a yellowish liquid that contains hundreds of different proteins, salts, and enzymes. Some of the key proteins in plasma include:
- Albumin – helps maintain fluid levels in the bloodstream.
- Clotting factors – helps blood clot.
- Immunoglobulins – antibodies that help fight infection.
Plasma has numerous medical uses, which is why plasma donation is so important. Donated plasma is processed into products that can help treat various conditions, such as:
- Immune deficiencies
- Bleeding disorders
- Shock and trauma
- Infection prevention
Plasma products are also used in medical research to develop new therapies. The demand for plasma donation continues to grow as new uses for plasma are discovered.
Iron and Plasma Donation
In order to donate plasma, donors must meet certain health requirements set by the plasma collection center. One of the requirements is having adequate iron levels, measured by hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. It contains iron, which gives blood its red color. Low iron leads to reduced hemoglobin production and anemia.
Plasma donation centers require adequate hemoglobin levels because when you donate plasma, you temporarily lose some red blood cells along with the plasma. Low hemoglobin means your body can’t tolerate this loss as well.
The minimum hemoglobin requirements for donating plasma are:
- Females: 12.5 g/dL
- Males: 13.0 g/dL
However, exact requirements can vary between plasma donation centers. Some set higher minimums. The staff will check your hemoglobin levels each time you come in to donate.
Checking Your Iron Levels
Before trying to donate plasma, it’s important to get your iron levels checked by a doctor. There are three main blood tests that can measure your iron status:
- Hemoglobin – As mentioned, this checks the hemoglobin protein in your red blood cells. It indicates how well your blood can transport oxygen.
- Hematocrit – This measures the percentage of your total blood volume that is made up of red blood cells. Low hematocrit correlates with anemia.
- Ferritin – This test directly measures the amount of iron stored in your body. Low ferritin indicates depleted iron reserves.
Based on your test results, your doctor can tell you if your iron levels are normal or low. If low, they can advise if it’s safe to donate plasma or if you need to boost your iron first.
Can You Donate Plasma if Your Iron Is Low?
If your iron levels are below the hemoglobin cutoff set by the plasma center, you most likely will not be allowed to donate. However, the decision is up to the discretion of the donation center staff. Some factors they consider include:
- How low your hemoglobin is – The further below the minimum your levels are, the higher the risk of an adverse reaction. Even slightly low levels may be rejected.
- First time vs repeat donor – First time donors may get more leeway if their iron is borderline low. Repeat donors who have donated successfully in the past despite low iron may also still be allowed.
- How you feel – If you report symptoms of anemia like fatigue, dizziness, or shortness of breath, staff will be less likely to approve you.
- Underlying conditions – Certain conditions that affect your blood like sickle cell disease or thalassemia mean staff will be extra cautious about low iron.
So while you may sometimes donate plasma with mild iron deficiency, severe or symptomatic anemia will disqualify you. It’s not worth risking your health to donate when your iron reserves are depleted.
Increasing Your Iron Levels
If you want to become eligible to donate plasma but currently have low iron, you can take steps to raise your iron levels, such as:
Eat an iron-rich diet
- Red meat
- Leafy greens
- Fortified cereals
- Beans, lentils
Cook with cast-iron pans – Iron from cookware can leach into food.
Take iron supplements – But only under your doctor’s supervision to avoid exceeding the upper limit.
Treat underlying blood loss – Heavy menstruation, bleeding disorders, or GI issues can deplete iron.
Increase vitamin C intake – Vitamin C aids iron absorption from food and supplements.
Reduce intake of coffee, tea, dairy – These inhibit iron absorption from meals.
Get regular blood tests – Have your hemoglobin rechecked every 1-3 months to monitor improvement.
With diligent iron-boosting efforts, most healthy adults can raise their hemoglobin by 1 g/dL every 3-4 weeks. Patience and consistency are key. Let your plasma center know once your levels normalize so you can be approved to donate.
Tips for Donating Plasma With Low-Normal Iron
If your hemoglobin is just barely meeting the minimum cutoff, take extra precautions when donating plasma:
- Eat an iron-rich meal beforehand – This helps replace iron lost during donation. Focus on red meat, spinach, beans, etc.
- Take it slow and listen to your body – Sit comfortably, go at a pace that feels right, and speak up about any concerning symptoms.
- Stay hydrated – Drink extra fluids before and after donating to avoid dizziness. Water is best.
- Allow longer recovery periods – Wait at least 2 days between donations instead of the minimum 1 day. Give your body extra time to stabilize.
- Take iron supplements – Replace iron stores faster by continuing to supplement between donations.
- Monitor your ferritin levels – Having ferritin retested periodically can confirm your iron reserves stay adequate.
With caution, donors with low-normal iron can still safely donate plasma and help save lives. But health comes first, so be sure to exclude donation if your iron drops too low.
Other Factors That Can Impact Plasma Donation Eligibility
While low iron is one of the most common reasons plasma donation is deferred, it is not the only factor that can affect eligibility. Plasma centers also screen for:
Medical conditions – Such as HIV, hepatitis, sepsis, or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Medications – Such as blood thinners that could increase bleeding risk.
Age – Most centers only accept donors aged 18-65.
Weight – Donors usually must be above 110 pounds.
Blood pressure – Extremely high or low BP may be problematic.
Recent tattoos/piercings – These can increase infection risk so require deferral periods.
Previous reactions – Allergic reactions or fainting may mean temporary or permanent ineligibility.
Travel to certain regions – Travel to areas with risk of transmission of infectious diseases may require deferral.
Donors should inform staff of any health or lifestyle factors that may impact their eligibility. Your safety comes first. With patience and care, many temporary deferrals can eventually be reversed.
The Takeaway – Listen to Your Body
Mildly low iron levels do not definitively disqualify you from being a plasma donor. However, your health is the top priority. Pay close attention to your body and any symptoms of anemia. Be honest with the donation staff about your iron status and any concerns.
Work on consistently boosting your iron intake through diet, supplements, and/or treating any underlying blood loss. Get your levels retested regularly. With time and perseverance, you can get your hemoglobin within normal range again and potentially resume life-saving plasma donations.