About 6.8 million Americans donate blood annually, according to the American Red Cross. From transfusions to research, donated blood has multiple purposes — all of which help other people. If you are about to join the millions of donors, understanding what to expect and how to care for yourself following the donation process is absolutely necessary.
While proper after-donation care is important year-round, during the summer months it takes on a special sense of need. Adding hot, humid, potentially dehydrating weather to mix may change the way your body reacts. Before you donate, take a look at what you need to know about the donation process and summertime recovery.
When the summer sun starts shining and the mercury rises, the risk of dehydration increases. Keep in mind, dehydration risk doesn’t only go up in relation to blood donation. You may experience dehydration in the summer for plenty of reasons. Prolonged outdoor/sun exposure, too little water/liquid hydration, and strenuous exercise can all contribute to dehydration.
Dehydration can impact your body’s circulation, making it more difficult to give blood. Drinking plenty of water prior to your donation appointment can get your blood flowing, making the process easier on your body. Along with making it more challenging to donate, existing dehydration can cause dizziness or even fainting afterwards.
If you know that you’re giving blood on a summer day, avoid activities that cause excessive sweating or make your body temperature rise before your donation time. Drink a minimum of 16 ounces of water before donating. Caffeinated beverages act as diuretics, making dehydration worse. Skip your daily cup of coffee, caffeinated soda, or any other similar beverage.
Injuries or complications due to blood donation are rare. But in some cases, they do happen. One study, from the Asian Journal of Transfusion Science of donation-related complications found that 10 percent of moderate post-process issues resulted from arm injuries.
If donation does result in arm pain or bleeding, always consult a medical professional immediately. These rare injuries can make some of your summer activities more challenging. For example, physical outdoor activities, such as playing tennis or swimming, may become painful with an arm injury.
Along with injuries, keep the area where the needle/IV entered your arm dry and germ-free. This means covering it completely before going swimming.
Lightheadedness and Heat
Heat exhaustion is a serious summer issue. Heat-related illnesses go beyond dehydration or thirst. Sunstroke, exhaustion, and other similar issues can result in dizziness, nausea, headaches, and weakness. In its most serious form, heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency medical attention.
Donating blood can lead to dizziness or lightheadedness. This side effect is one of the reasons the medial staff may ask you to sit and rest for 10 to 15 minutes following the procedure. Add on a hot a day, and you may feel even worse (or feel worse for a longer period of time).
It’s important to distinguish blood donation–related lightheadedness from heat exhaustion or heat stroke symptoms. If you do go outside or are overly activity following your donation, don’t assume that experiencing dizziness is normal. Most people recover from donating quickly. This fact makes any extended lightheadedness, especially when coupled with outdoor activity, a red flag.
While you don’t need to take the day off after giving blood, avoiding the mid-day sun and strenuous activities can reduce the risks associated with overheating.
Are you interested in giving blood? Your blood can help researchers to make new discoveries that can benefit people with a variety of medical conditions.