Did you know you can get a free health screening, a mini blood test, burn 650 calories while relaxing, and save up to three lives all in about one hour? That’s right! Donating blood is full of wins all the way around, yet very few people volunteer to give blood and it can be extra confusing for people with diabetes.
In the United States alone, someone needs blood every two seconds. If it takes you three minutes to read this, 90 (!!) people will have required or received a blood transfusion. It’s easy to imagine the need during disasters and for emergency situations, but many planned procedures and routine treatments use donated blood too. Unlike insulin, blood cannot be made in a lab or factory. The need for donors is constant and not enough people are helping.
Can I donate blood if I have diabetes?
You might not like to hear this, but like most things with diabetes, it depends.
For most collecting organizations in America, like the Red Cross, it’s all about your blood sugar level and what type of insulins you’ve used. Blood sugars should be as normal as possible to optimize storage. If you’ve used bovine (beef) insulin you won’t be able to donate – more on that in a bit.
In Canada, people with type 2 diabetes using pills or diet and exercise can donate. People with type 2 diabetes who use insulin may be able to donate, but it depends on when you started insulin, whether your blood sugars are stable, and any recent substantial changes in insulin dose. People with type 1 diabetes are not allowed to donate. More info...
The Australian Red Cross Blood Service website is well done. It says you can donate if you're managing your diabetes well with diet or pills and are free from complications. If you take insulin, they ask that you give them a call to discuss further, but go on to say that it generally isn’t a problem unless you’ve used bovine (beef) insulin (see below). More info...
And in the UK there are some interesting rules:
If you are under investigations then please check again after these have been completed. You may donate as long as:
- EITHER you have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes (abnormal blood sugar) or gestational (pregnancy) diabetes as long as you do not require treatment at present OR your diabetes is controlled by diet alone OR You are taking the same dose of the same medication for 4 weeks or more either orally or injectable medication such as Exenatide or Liraglutide and feeling fit and well and you must make sure that NONE of the following apply.
- If the following apply we are sorry but you are unable to donate.
- You need regular insulin treatment
- You have needed treatment with insulin within the last 4 weeks
- You have suffered from Heart Failure
- You are under investigation, on treatment or under follow up for renal (kidney) impairment
- You have had ulcers or wounds related to a loss of sensation
- You have had amputation or blood vessel surgery
- You have problems with feeling faint, fainting or giddiness
If you have had gangrene then please call us to discuss on 0300 123 23 23
Please always mention medication you are taking to the staff at session.
Donating blood with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes
It doesn't matter so much which type of diabetes you have. Most of the eligibility criteria above are more concerned with your overall blood sugar management and if you're on medications (and what those medications are).
What about bovine (beef) insulin and donating blood?
What's this stuff about bovine or beef insulin? Did you know that insulin used to come from the ground up pancreases of cows and pigs? Ewww, gross, right? Thankfully, smart scientists figured out how to grow human insulin in the lab using E. coli bacteria and yeasts in the early 80s and quit making purified pancreas smoothies. By the mid-80s, lab-grown human insulins were in wide use across most of North America and Europe.
If you’ve had diabetes long enough, you probably remember using beef or pork insulin before switching to one of the human varieties. In the case of donating blood, it’s an important detail.
If you used porcine (pork/pig) insulin, you can donate. If you used bovine (beef/cow) insulin anytime after 1980, you aren't allowed to donate.
This donor exclusion rule is related to a variant of mad cow disease, and you can read more here. There’s no test in humans to screen blood donors for this and protect the blood supply, so all possible sources of introduction have to be eliminated, no matter how small the risk.
Beef or bacon?
And here’s the rub. If that’s you, in most cases, we’re talking about more than thirty years ago. Unless you have a photographic memory or have your medical records, how can you know for sure whether your insulin came from pigs or cows?
Unfortunately, we don’t have an answer for you, and that sucks. We’re sorry.
If you find a great solution or have any additional information, please let us know. We’d love to update this post to help more potential donors.
The big day
You meet the qualifications and can donate? That’s great! Congratulations, and thank you! You shouldn’t notice any immediate spike or drop in your blood sugar, but do pay attention by checking before, after, and during if you feel funny or suspect anything. Trust your gut; you know your diabetes best.
If you have your HbA1c checked soon after giving blood, it may be falsely low because of the rapid creation of new red blood cells. That makes sense when you think about how the A1c test works.
Your donation center will often offer snacks and drinks to help refuel your body – standard protocol after giving blood. If you have something, don’t forget to factor it into your diabetes management plan, too.
Your body will be busy rebuilding your blood supply, so it’s a good idea to boost your liquids and pay close attention to how you’re feeling over the next couple of days. Get extra rest if you need it and pat yourself on the back for making a difference.
According to WHO, it only takes an estimated 20-25 regular donors per 1000 inhabitants keeps a nation's blood supply self-sufficient. That's not many!
Thank you for even thinking about being one of those 20-25 donors! Let us know what your experience is in the comments.