Plasma donations help save lives by providing essential proteins and antibodies for transfusions and medical treatments. Many wonder if the procedure of donating plasma itself causes pain. While donating plasma is a safe, simple process that takes only around 30 to 45 minutes, some donors may experience mild discomfort.
Donating plasma shouldn’t hurt. Donating plasma should feel the same as a regular blood donation. You might feel a stinging sensation when the needle is inserted, but after that, the staff will do its best to make sure that you’re comfortable throughout the donation process.
How is plasma donations performed?
Plasma donations typically follow these steps:
1. Registering as a new or returning donor
Donors first register at the donation center’s front desk. New donors provide their contact and medical information and complete a health screening questionnaire. Returning donors check in using their donor ID. Both new and returning donors must provide valid photo identification.
2. A brief health screening
Technicians then conduct a brief health screening. They take donors’ temperature, blood pressure, and pulse to confirm they are eligible to donate. Any donors who are ill, underweight, or have irregular heart rhythms are deferred from donating.
3. Lying down on a donation bed
Once cleared, donors lie down on a reclining bed in a private area of the donation center. Donors are encouraged to get comfortable and relax.
4. Disinfecting the puncture site and inserting the needle
A technician cleans the donor’s arm using an antiseptic wipe and inserts a hollow-bore needle into a vein, usually in the crook of the arm. The needle is attached by tubing to a machine that separates the plasma from the blood cells and returns the blood cells to the donor’s body.
5. Plasma filtering through a machine
The donor’s blood circulates through the machine which separates out the plasma using a centrifugal technique. The donor’s red and white blood cells are returned through the needle while the plasma is collected in bags.
6. Staff checking in on comfort levels
Technicians and nurses check in regularly to ensure donors remain comfortable throughout the donation process and adjust any settings accordingly. They also monitor the donor’s vital signs and condition.
Does donating plasma cause pain?
For most donors, donating plasma should not be a very painful process. However, some discomfort is possible at different stages of the donation:
1. Inserting the needle may cause a brief stinging sensation
As with any needle insertion, inserting the hollow-bore needle into a vein to begin the plasma donation may cause a brief stinging or pinching sensation. For some donors, applying a lubricating gel, using a new and thin needle, and having the technician insert the needle at the optimal angle can minimize this discomfort.
2. Most donors experience little to no pain after the needle is inserted
Once the needle is in place and the plasma donation begins, most donors report experiencing little to no pain during the remainder of the process. Some donors feel only a dull ache, tightness, or mild heaviness in their arm as blood circulates out and back into their body. Donors are encouraged to move and stretch their arm gently during the donation to improve comfort.
3. Some donors feel mild cramping or tingling
While not very common, some donors experience mild muscle cramping, tingling, or numbness in their arm after several minutes. This is usually due to the arm remaining still in one position for an extended period of time. Movement, changing positions slightly, applying heat or cold to the puncture site, and massaging the arm can help alleviate these symptoms. Technicians will also adjust the needle and tubing if necessary.
Overall, donating plasma should not be a very painful experience for most donors. Any minor discomfort that does arise can often be managed with simple measures and adjustments during the donation.
How can discomfort be reduced?
There are a number of things donors can do to minimize discomfort during plasma donation:
1. Drink extra fluids before your donation
Being well hydrated before donating makes the needle insertion easier and improves tolerance of the donation process. Aim to drink an extra 8 ounces of water or juice in the hour before your appointment.
2. Ask staff to adjust the needle entry angle
If the initial needle insertion causes discomfort, ask the technician to slightly adjust the angle of entry. A more shallow angle may cause less irritation of surrounding tissues and nerves.
3. Ask for a warm blanket or heating pad
Applying warming to the donation area can help relax muscles and ease mild cramps or aches in the arm. Simply placing a heating pad or warm blanket over the shoulder may provide comfort.
4. Request a lower donation bed setting
Lying completely flat is not required for plasma donation. Lowering the head of the donation bed slightly can make it easier to stay relaxed and comfortable during the process.
5. Move or stretch your legs and arms gently
Gently moving and stretching your legs and free arm throughout the donation helps improve circulation and reduces tenseness that can cause discomfort. Simply wiggle your toes, flex your feet, point and curl your free hand. You can also rotate the donation arm very slowly and lightly squeeze the hand into a fist. Ask staff if any movements are acceptable during your donation.
While donating plasma helps save lives, it’s understandable that some donors may worry about potential pain. But overall, plasma donation should not be a very painful experience for most people when proper techniques are used. Any minor discomfort that does arise can usually be alleviated through simple measures and adjustments during the donation process.
By following the tips to minimize discomfort and communicating openly with staff, most donors can have a safe and tolerable plasma donation experience.
1. Are plasma donations painful?
For most donors, plasma donation is not a very painful procedure. However, some mild discomfort is possible at various stages of the donation process. With proper techniques, communication, and adjustments, any discomfort can usually be minimized.
2. Does donating plasma hurt your veins?
Provided the needle insertion is done correctly and screens are in place to ensure proper blood flow rates, plasma donation should not cause damage to your veins. Over time, repeated plasma donations can weaken some veins, however.
3. How long does it take to donate plasma?
A typical plasma donation takes about 30 to 45 minutes from the time you arrive until you leave. Some donors with greater plasma volume may require up to an hour to complete the donation.
4. What should I eat before donating plasma?
Eat a light, high-carbohydrate and high-protein meal within 3 to 4 hours of donating plasma. Foods like bagels, yogurt, granola bars, and fruit cups are ideal. Avoid high-fat meals and limit dairy in the hour before your appointment. Stay hydrated by drinking extra water or juice.