Donating plasma is a selfless act that can save lives. Plasma contains proteins that help the blood clot and fight infections. It is used to make medications to treat bleeding disorders, immunodeficiencies, and other conditions. If you are considering becoming a plasma donor, you likely want to know how often you can donate. This comprehensive guide provides everything you need to know.
What is Plasma?
Plasma is the largest component of blood, making up 55% of total blood volume. It is a light yellow liquid that carries red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, electrolytes, clotting factors, hormones, and nutrients throughout the body.
Plasma differs from whole blood in a few key ways:
- Plasma is 91% water, while whole blood is 83% water.
- Plasma does not contain red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets.
- Plasma can be donated more frequently than whole blood.
When separated from whole blood, plasma is a straw-colored liquid. Pharmaceutical companies use donated plasma to manufacture lifesaving medications.
How Plasma Donation Works
The plasma donation process is similar to whole blood donation but takes longer – about 1-2 hours. Here are the basic steps:
- Medical screening: You will complete a questionnaire about your medical history and have your vitals checked.
- Needle insertion: A sterile needle is inserted into your arm to collect blood.
- Blood collection: Your blood is drawn into a sterile bag that contains an anticoagulant to prevent clotting.
- Plasma separation: Your blood goes through a centrifuge to separate the plasma from other blood components.
- Return of red blood cells: The red blood cells are returned to your body along with a saline solution to replace the plasma volume.
- Post-donation rest: You should rest for at least 15 minutes after donating.
The plasma donation process is safe when performed at an accredited facility. Side effects like bruising, fatigue, and dizziness are rare but can occur.
How Often Can You Donate Plasma?
Plasma regenerates rapidly in the body, so you can donate it more frequently than whole blood. However, there are limits for safety reasons.
- American Red Cross: Allows plasma donation every 28 days, up to 13 times per year.
- Plasma donation centers: Allow donation 2 times per week, up to 104 times per year.
- Minimum interval: There must be at least 48 hours between donations.
The FDA’s “seven day rule” states that donors can only give plasma twice within a seven day period, with at least one day in between donations. This sliding seven day window helps prevent over-donation.
While allowed, donating 104 times per year would be extremely taxing on the body. Most plasma centers set tiered donation goals, with the highest tiers around 24-40 donations per month. Donating 1-2 times per week is reasonable for most healthy adults.
Is Donating Plasma Every Week Safe?
Donating plasma up to 2 times per week is generally safe for most people. However, frequent plasma donation can lead to:
- Low iron levels: Plasma donation removes small amounts of iron. Supplements may be needed to prevent iron deficiency anemia.
- Dehydration: Plasma is mostly water, so fluid intake must be increased to avoid dehydration.
- Lower protein levels: Plasma protein levels can drop with frequent donation, but they normalize within 3 days.
Minor side effects like dizziness and fatigue are also more common with frequent donation. Stay well hydrated, allow 48 hours between donations, and listen to your body. Discuss any concerns with your doctor.
Factors That Affect Plasma Donation Frequency
While most adults can safely donate plasma up to 104 times per year, some factors affect individual eligibility:
You must be at least 18 years old to donate plasma. Some states allow 16 or 17 year olds to donate with parental consent. There is no upper age limit as long as you are in good health.
Donors must weigh at least 110 pounds. This minimum weight ensures that adequate plasma volume can be safely collected.
Certain conditions like HIV, hepatitis, bleeding disorders, and seizure disorders disqualify you from donating plasma. Other chronic conditions may require a doctor’s note to donate.
Pregnant women cannot donate plasma due to health risks to mom and baby. You must wait at least 6 weeks after giving birth to donate.
Some medications, including blood thinners and certain antibiotics, require a deferral period before plasma donation is allowed.
Major surgery requires a 6-month deferral period before plasma donation. Minor procedures may require a shorter 1-3 month deferral.
New tattoos or piercings with non-sterile instruments require a 3-6 month deferral period before donating plasma.
Reasons You May Be Deferred From Donating Plasma
You can be temporarily or permanently deferred from plasma donation for various reasons:
- Cold, flu, or infection – defer until symptoms resolve
- Recent alcohol intake
- Abnormal hematocrit level
- Abnormal vital signs
- Certain medications or treatments
- Recent tattoos/piercings
- Major illness or surgery
- Active cancer
- Bleeding disorders
- Certain autoimmune disorders
Severe heart, lung, or kidney disease may also lead to permanent deferral. Always disclose your full medical history to avoid risks associated with plasma donation.
How to Prepare for Plasma Donation
Preparing properly for your plasma donation appointment helps prevent side effects and deferral:
- Hydrate – Drink 16 oz of water 1-2 hours before your appointment.
- Eat – Have a healthy meal high in protein and iron 1-2 hours prior. Avoid fatty foods.
- Rest – Get a good night’s sleep the evening before donating.
- Check hemoglobin – Make sure your hemoglobin level qualifies you to donate.
- Avoid alcohol – Do not drink alcohol for 24 hours before donating.
- Bring ID – Have a valid government-issued photo ID with you.
What to Expect After Donating Plasma
After making a plasma donation, you may temporarily experience:
- Mild pain, bruising, or redness at the needle site
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Temporary decrease in plasma proteins
- Muscle cramping
Drink extra fluids and avoid strenuous activity for 24-48 hours after donating. Over-the-counter pain relievers can treat soreness at the needle site. If symptoms persist or get worse, contact your doctor. Most side effects resolve within a day.
Plasma Donation Payment Structure
Donating plasma is often compensated monetarily. Payment rates vary by location and center, but often follow a tiered structure that increases with higher monthly donation frequency.
For example, a first-time donor may receive $25-50 for their initial donation. Compensation then increases in tiers:
- Tier 1: 1-4 donations per month = $20-30 per donation
- Tier 2: 5-8 donations per month = $35-50 per donation
- Tier 3: 9+ donations per month = $50-75+ per donation
Various bonus opportunities and rewards programs also exist to encourage regular plasma donation.
Plasma Donation Eligibility Checklist
Here is a quick checklist to see if you may be eligible to become a plasma donor:
- [ ] You are at least 18 years old
- [ ] You weigh 110+ pounds
- [ ] You have valid photo ID
- [ ] You are in good general health
- [ ] You do not have HIV, hepatitis, or bleeding/clotting disorders
- [ ] You do not have new tattoos or piercings
- [ ] You are not pregnant and it has been > 6 weeks since giving birth
If you meet these criteria, you can likely become a plasma donor! Double check with your specific donation center for any additional requirements.
How Plasma Donation Helps Others
Donating plasma provides crucial materials to produce plasma-derived therapies that treat numerous conditions. Here are just a few ways plasma donation benefits others:
- Treats clotting deficiencies in hemophilia patients
- Provides immunoglobulins to treat immunodeficiencies
- Makes albumin to treat burn victims
- Produces clotting factors for surgical patients
- Helps make RhoGam injections that prevent RH incompatibility during pregnancy
Your plasma donation saves lives! Even donating just 1-2 times per month makes a huge