How is blood donation used 

Blood donations save lives every day. They are used in a wide variety of different situations and to treat a large number of different illnesses and conditions.

Screening

After your blood has been collected for donation, it is sent for testing in a laboratory. Here, it is screened for viruses and infections, such as HIV and hepatitis.

If the blood passes this screening, it will usually be separated into different components. This means your blood donation can be used to help several different patients.

Once the blood has been separated, it is distributed to hospitals all over the country. It is usually then stored in a blood bank until needed.

When the blood is needed, a blood transfusion is used to give it to a recipient.

Different components

The different components that blood donations are split into are outlined below.

Red blood cells

Red blood cells are the cells that carry oxygen around the body in a substance known as haemoglobin.

Red blood cells are often used to treat types of anaemia that do not always respond to other forms of treatment, such as medication. For example, sickle cell anaemia (a genetic condition that stops red blood cells from carrying enough oxygen) is sometimes treated using red blood cells.

Red blood cells are also used to replace blood lost as a result of an accident, surgery or during childbirth. In some cases, these cells are used before operations and surgical procedures. For example, you may need preoperative red blood cells if you are severely anaemic or have severe burns.

Platelets

Platelets are the cells in your blood that help it to clot. They are often used to treat bleeding caused by bone marrow failure. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside your bones that helps to produce new blood cells. When the bone marrow is not able to produce enough cells, it is known as bone marrow failure.

Platelets are also used to treat bleeding caused by leukaemia (a form of cancer that affects the blood cells).

Read more about platelet donation.

Plasma

Plasma is a yellow-coloured fluid that helps to carry all the different types of blood cells. It is usually frozen.

Frozen plasma is used to help replace blood lost during childbirth or heart surgery.

Read more about plasma products.

Terminal illness

As well as saving lives, blood donations can also help improve the quality of life of people with a terminal illness. A blood transfusion may give them the energy to spend time with friends and relatives.

Page last reviewed: 07/10/2014

Next review due: 07/10/2017