What happens during blood donation
Blood donation is a simple, virtually painless process that takes less than an hour to complete.
Find your nearest centre
NHS Blood and Transplant collects 1.8 million units of blood each year from over 23,000 blood donation sessions across England and North Wales.
To find your nearest blood donation centre, call NHS Blood and Transplant free on 0300 123 23 23. You can make an appointment for a date and time that is convenient for you.
You can enter your postcode below to search for your nearest centre. Alternatively, visit the www.blood.co.uk website to book an appointment.
It is recommended that men only donate blood every 12 weeks (three months) and women only donate every 16 weeks (four months). The minimum period between donations is 12 weeks, unless you have a condition called haemochromatosis, in which case a shorter interval may be allowed.
If you have never given blood before, you can register as a blood donor on the NHS Blood and Transplant website.
Before donating blood
Before donating blood, make sure you eat and drink at least a few hours before your appointment and avoid vigorous exercise. This will help stop you feeling faint or dizzy after you have given blood.
Do not drink alcohol before you give blood.
When you arrive at the donation centre, you will be given some information to read. This will explain the procedure and help ensure you are suitable to give blood.
You will then need to fill in a confidential donor health check form. You will be asked a number of questions about your health and lifestyle. It is important that these questions are answered honestly and accurately to ensure the blood you donate is safe to use.
Read more about who can give blood.
Once the donor health check form has been completed, a droplet of blood will be taken from your finger tip to check how much haemoglobin it contains.
Haemoglobin is a substance in red blood cells that helps to carry oxygen around the body. Anaemia happens when you do not have enough red blood cells or when the blood cells do not contain enough haemoglobin. The most common type of anaemia is known as iron deficiency anaemia.
Symptoms of anaemia can include:
- shortness of breath
- palpitations (irregular heartbeat)
If your haemoglobin level is low, giving blood could make you anaemic. If this is the case, you may need to visit your GP before you can give blood.
Read more about iron deficiency anaemia.
Once you have passed all necessary health checks, you will be able to donate blood. It usually takes 5 to 10 minutes for your blood donation to be collected.
The donation procedure will usually involve a cuff being placed around your arm. The cuff is inflated to help make the veins in your arm easier to access.
Your arm will be cleaned and a sterile needle inserted into a vein that is held in place with tape.
You should barely feel the needle. The needle is used only once and is discarded after your donation.
During most blood donations, approximately 470ml (just under one pint) of blood is taken. This amount is only around 10% of an adult's blood supply and your body will be able to replace it very quickly.
As long as you are well hydrated after your blood donation, your body will make up the fluid part of the blood within a few hours. It will take just a few weeks for your body to fully replace all of the blood cells.
Virtual donation session
You can find out what happens at a blood donor session using the virtual session provided NHS Blood and Transplant. This takes you through a blood donor session step by step.
After donating blood, you will need to rest for a short while. You will be offered refreshments to stop you feeling faint or dizzy. The whole process of donating blood should not take longer than an hour.
You will usually be advised to keep the pressure bandage on your arm for about 30 minutes and the plaster dressing on for six hours. Avoid using this arm to carry anything very heavy.
If you smoke, it is recommended that you avoid smoking for two hours after giving blood because smoking could make you feel faint and dizzy.
Donating blood is very safe, although you may experience some mild after effects, such as:
- bruising at the site where the blood was taken (which affects around one in four people)
- a sore arm (which affects around one in 10 people)
- dizziness and fainting (which affects around one in 15 people)
More serious after effects that require medical treatment are rare, occurring in less than one in every 3,500 cases.
If you become unwell within two weeks of your donation, call the NHS Blood and Transplant helpline on 0300 123 23 23. This is very important, as it may mean you had an infection when you donated blood and your donation could put the person who receives your blood at risk. You should also call this number if you keep feeling faint after your donation.
If you are concerned about your symptoms, you can call NHS 111 for further advice.
Someone who has a blood transfusion must receive blood from a donor with the same blood type.
Your blood group is determined by your ABO group and your RhD group. If you have a rare type of blood group, you may be contacted about making special donations.
Read more about blood types.
Page last reviewed: 07/10/2014
Next review due: 07/10/2016