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Can You Donate Blood if You Have an Autoimmune Disease?

Natalie Krafft

Published in Health & Wellness

6 min read

April 12, 2024
blood bags
blood bags

Donating blood can save a life, and these donations are needed more often than you may think. Unfortunately, less than 38 percent of Americans are eligible to donate blood, and only 10 percent of that number donate blood annually.

People who suffer from health conditions such as an autoimmune disease may wonder if they meet the requirements to donate. Decades-old myths can sometimes leave people incorrectly assuming that they're ineligible.

While some awareness campaigns and blood donation events, like World Blood Donor Day, have helped a bit, there's still so much to learn about blood donation. We've already gone over whether people with diabetes can donate blood, let's take a closer look at donating blood if you have other autoimmune diseases and conditions.

What You Should Know About Donor Eligibility

a person donating their blood

There are a few factors that determine whether someone is eligible to donate blood. According to the American Red Cross, donors must be at least 17-years-old and weigh a minimum of 110 pounds. They'll be asked to fill out a questionnaire confirming that they are in good health at the time of donation.

Some health history and medical conditions may automatically disqualify you from donating. A few include:

  • Lymphoma and other types of cancer
  • Exposure to mad cow disease
  • A recently contracted STD such as syphilis
  • An HIV, Hepatitis B, or Hepatitis C diagnosis

Certain prescribed medications may also temporarily prevent you from donating blood, such as immunosuppressants, blood thinners, and Accutane.

Can People with Autoimmune Diseases Donate Blood?

a nurse drawing a person's blood

An autoimmune disease is a condition that causes the body's immune system to mistake its healthy tissues as foreign and attack them as an immune response. There are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases, including conditions like psoriatic arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease (also known as coeliac disease), rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Hashimoto's, and Graves' disease.

According to the National Stem Cell Foundation, more than 50 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune condition. Many of these individuals want to contribute to their community, but they may be unsure if they qualify to donate blood. Unfortunately, the answer is a bit more complex than a simple yes or no.

In many cases, having one of these conditions doesn't automatically disqualify you from ever donating blood, but the regulations may vary depending on your exact medical condition.

People with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Graves' disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and multiple sclerosis are disqualified from donating blood. It's due to factors such as their thyroid levels, medications required, and other unknown factors that can impact their blood.

People with Celiac disease are typically able to donate blood as long as they meet other eligibility requirements, including age, weight, and other general health factors.

The medicines prescribed to you for your condition may play a role in determining where you'll be able to donate blood. Depending on your health status, your doctor may advise against donating due to the increased risk of infection.

Can You Donate Plasma If You Have an Autoimmune Disease?

a person holding a stress ball and getting their blood drawn

Plasma can be vital for treating rare and chronic diseases, and donors can even receive compensation for their donations because of how valuable it can be for specific treatments. To donate plasma, donors must pass a health screening and sometimes a physical examination and meet certain age and weight requirements.

Some individuals with autoimmune diseases may be able to donate their plasma, although their conditions don't allow them to donate blood.

This is because the antibodies produced in people with these conditions can be used for research as scientists look for cures. The antibodies from plasma donations from people with autoimmune conditions can also help treat other individuals suffering from that condition.

What’s the Difference Between Blood and Plasma Donations?

Donating plasma is different from donating blood. During the plasma donation process, your plasma is separated from other parts of the blood components through a centrifuge. Afterward, the blood is then returned to your blood vessels so that it can begin to replace the plasma that was removed.

In blood donations, blood banks receive all the components of the human blood (red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma, and platelets).

Most people can typically donate blood every 56 days, but that number may vary depending on your blood drive's policy and location.

Plasma can be donated much more frequently than blood, though the process can take significantly longer. Individuals who donate plasma can do so every 28 days, though the regulations can sometimes vary by state.

What Are the Risks of Donating Blood If You Have an Autoimmune Disease?

People with autoimmune disorders may be more susceptible to issues or complications after donating blood. For example, individuals with lupus may have an increased risk of experiencing a flare-up of their conditions. Some symptoms include joint pain, muscle weakness, muscle aches, and skin rash, after donating blood.

Donating blood is a safe procedure for most people, though some side effects such as nausea and light-headedness can sometimes occur. Individuals with autoimmune diseases should speak with their doctor to decide whether donating blood or plasma is safe for them, as some conditions may pose complications. You should also ensure you meet the general requirements for making a blood donation.

To stay on top of your health, medical professionals recommend doing regular lab tests to detect any possible conditions early and how it responds to certain lifestyle factors.

Why Blood Donation is so Important

a person holding a stress ball and getting their blood drawn

Blood transfusions are needed more often than you think. An estimated one in seven people entering a hospital will need a transfusion. As everyone has a particular blood type, some people can only receive certain types of blood in a transfusion, meaning that blood banks and hospitals need to collect as much of each type as possible.

The O blood type is the most common, and individuals with this blood type are considered universal donors, as anyone can receive this blood type in a transfusion. However, as this type of blood is in high demand, it's often in short supply in medical centers. Type AB is considered the universal donor in plasma donors, and its donation is equally essential.

Individuals donating blood should take precautions before doing so, both for their own safety and for the safety of others.

For example, your doctor may advise you to regulate blood sugar as much as possible, avoid doing a hard workout before your donation, and avoid drinking alcohol or smoking.

When it comes to donating blood, it's always best to check with a health provider to determine whether or not you have a condition and whether it's safe to donate based on that.

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Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Autoimmune system diseases are on the rise, but that doesn't mean people with these conditions can't donate blood. If you or your loved ones with autoimmune conditions want to donate blood, you may still be able to do so if your condition is well-managed.

That means eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight while keeping your blood glucose levels in check. One way to do so is by getting the support and tools you need from a program like Nutrisense so you can monitor your blood sugar levels and get personalized insights on how to regulate them.

Nutrisense nutritionists and dietitians can help you learn about and manage your blood glucose levels and also provide guidance on what foods to eat, which exercises to do, and other important lifestyle changes that can positively impact your overall health.

Take our quiz to learn more.

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the Nutrisense CGM program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

Find the right Nutrisense program    to help you discover and reach your health potential.
Amanda Donahue, MS, RD, CD

Reviewed by: Amanda Donahue, MS, RD, CD

Amanda is a Nutrition Manager and Registered Dietitian at Nutrisense, with a Masters in Dietetics from Stephen F. Austin State University. Originally from south GA, she got her undergrad degree from Texas Tech University. Before joining Nutrisense, she worked at a hospital in Fort Worth, TX, for 4 years as a dietitian, counseling those living with HIV.

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