What Size Needle Do They Use For Plasma Donation?


Matthew McClain

What Size Needle Do They Use For Plasma Donation?

Size of Needle for Plasma Donation  

Most plasma centers use a 16 or 17 gauge needle for plasma donation. The 16 gauge needle is the standard as it provides a good balance between vein comfort and collection efficiency. A 16 gauge needle measures around 1.7 millimeters in outer diameter and is commonly used for blood donations as well. The larger the gauge number, the thinner the needle. A 17 gauge needle is slightly thinner at around 1.5 millimeters in diameter.  

While smaller 18 gauge needles exist, they are not preferred for plasma donation due to lower flow rates of plasma out of the vein. The thicker 16 and 17 gauge needles allow more plasma to flow from the vein at an optimal rate, shortening the plasma donation process.

Other Considerations for the Needle   

Along with the gauge of the needle, the needle length, material and safety design also impact the donor experience and plasma yield.   

Longer needles up to 2 inches help ensure the needle can reach deeper into the vein for blood flow. Standard 1.5 inch needles work for most donors but taller individuals may require longer needles.

Needles with plastic hubs are generally more comfortable to those with sensitive skin. All metal needles can cause irritation for some donors.

Safety or retractable needles help minimize injuries and needlestick exposure. Many plasma centers now utilize these passive safety needles that retract the needle tip automatically after use. This provides an extra layer of protection for staff and donors.

Exceptions for Small Veins  

While 16 and 17 gauge needles are standard for plasma donation, some donors with smaller veins may require an 18 or 19 gauge needle. This is especially true for donors who are younger, children or have very thin veins. The smaller diameter needle can be more comfortable for these donors as it puts less pressure on the vein wall during donation.

For donors with small veins, using a needle that is too large can cause several issues:

  • Discomfort: A large gauge needle that is too wide for the vein can stretch the vein and cause pain or discomfort during donation.    
  • Difficulty inserting: If a thin vein does not accommodate a thick needle, the technician may have trouble inserting the needle into the vein. This can lead to multiple needle sticks which is unpleasant for the donor.
  • Bruising: When a thick needle is forced into a small vein, it can damage the vein and cause bruising after donation.   
  • Low flow rate: A large gauge needle that does not fit well within a thin vein can restrict plasma flow, resulting in a longer donation time.

For these reasons, donors with small veins often require an 18 or 19 gauge needle for plasma donation. Though the flow rate may be lower, the smaller needle diameter allows for a more comfortable and successful donation. Some plasma centers will have 18 and 19 gauge needles available specifically for donors with thin veins.

So if you have small veins but still want to donate plasma, speaking with the technician about using  an 18 or 19 gauge needle may make a big difference in your donation experience.

Why They Use 16 Gauge Needles For Plasma Donations? 

There are a few reasons why plasma centers typically use 16 gauge needles for plasma donations:

  • Larger bore size: 16 gauge needles have a larger internal diameter, which allows plasma to flow more quickly into the collection bags. This significantly reduces the donation time.
  • Faster collection rate: The larger bore size of 16 gauge needles allows plasma to be collected at a rate of 50 to 75 mL per minute. This is much faster than with smaller gauge needles.
  • Less prone to bending or puncturing veins: Since 16 gauge needles are thicker and stiffer, they are less likely to bend upon insertion into the donor’s vein or accidentally puncture the vein. This reduces complications.
  • Easier insertion: In general, larger gauge needles are easier for phlebotomists to insert into donors’ veins. This helps ensure a successful donation.
  • Accommodates most veins: Most donors have veins that can accommodate the insertion of a 16 gauge needle without issue. Very small veins may require a smaller needle gauge.
  • Reduces stinging pain: While the initial puncture of a 16 gauge needle causes more pain, the larger bore size reduces stinging pain that can occur with smaller needles during the donation process.

So 16-gauge needles have become the de facto standard for plasma donation due to their ideal combination of plasma flow, donor comfort and safety for both patients and staff. The size works well for the vast majority of donors while still enabling collections to happen at an efficient pace.

In summary, 16-gauge needles have become the standard size for plasma donation due to their optimal balance of plasma flow rate, donor comfort and safety benefits. While other needle sizes are sometimes used, particularly for donors with smaller or larger veins, 16-gauge needles work well for the majority of donors and allow collections to happen efficiently. The adoption of retractable 16-gauge needles has also helped reduce the risk of accidental needlestick injuries for medical staff.


1. How long is the needle inserted during plasma donation?

The needle is typically inserted for the full duration of the plasma donation procedure, which usually takes around 60 to 90 minutes.

2. Will the vein “collapsed” after plasma donation?

The vein may feel strange immediately after donation, but it will return to normal function and should not collapse. The volume of blood components removed is not enough to cause significant damage to veins.

3. How much blood is collected during plasma donation?

Only plasma is collected – the blood cells are returned to the donor. Typically about 650 mL to 850 mL of blood is cycled through the machine to extract 200 mL to 400 mL of plasma, depending on donor size and gender.

4. I have small veins, will 16 gauge needles work?

For donors with small veins, a smaller needle between 17 and 19 gauge may be required. However, it is still worth trying a 16 gauge needle first, as long as the staff are prepared to switch to a smaller size if needed.

5. What are side effects after plasma donation?

Common side effects may include bruising, mild lightheadedness, fatigue and headache. These side effects are typically temporary and resolve within hours to a few days.

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