Consider Becoming a Platelet Donor

Platelets—vital to good health—are tiny fragments of blood cells that help prevent bruising or serious bleeding. "They plug up tiny breaks in the blood vessels that occur in normal individuals, and low levels of platelets can lead to serious problems," explains Andrew Yeager, MD, of the University of Arizona Cancer Center.

Why Should I Consider Being a Platelet Donor?

In an individual undergoing treatment for cancer, the platelet count can drop so low that the risk of bruising or severe bleeding is dramatically increased. But with an infusion of platelets from a donor, the patient's platelet count can be restored to near-normal levels for a few days at least, Yeager explains.

"A low platelet count in someone undergoing chemotherapy is fairly common," Yeager says. "Suppressed blood cell production from chemotherapy means that the body isn't able to produce as many red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets that are necessary. A platelet donation can literally be lifesaving."

A low platelet count can cause severe nosebleeds or bleeding into the lungs, intestinal tract, or even into the brain, Yaeger explains.

Who Can Donate Platelets?

Potential platelet donors, who must be in good health, are screened carefully. In general, they should be at least 17 years old, though much older individuals can donate platelets.

How Does Platelet Donation Work?

The platelet donor is hooked up to a machine called a cell separator that draws a small portion of blood (about one quarter of a pint) from his arm. The platelets pass through the cell-separating machine, which collects the platelets and then returns the rest of the blood components (plus some saline) to the donor. The platelets then are transfused into the patient, restoring the patient's platelet levels to near normal, Yeager explains. While it takes four to six whole blood donations to produce one therapeutic dose, just one platelet donation can provide enough platelets for a full therapeutic dose for someone in need.

What Are the Side Effects to Donating Platelets?

While most individuals feel okay after they donate platelets, a few may experience nausea or dizziness, or even have a little bruising. Donors are advised to consume extra fluids for about 48 hours after giving blood or platelets. And while they can resume all normal activities, they should not lift or push heavy objects after they give blood or platelets.

For some individuals, side effects can occur as they receive a platelet donation, explains
Navneet Majhail, MD, MS, Director of the Cleveland Clinic's Blood and Marrow Transplant Program. "It's like getting a blood transfusion," he says. "You could get chills or a fever. But complications are not common."

How Often Can You Do Donate Platelets?

According to the American Red Cross, you can donate up to 24 times a year. Transfusedplatelets last for a few days, Yeager explains, but don't stay in the blood circulation for long. "People with low platelet counts may need to get platelet donations several times a week," Yeager says.

Andrew Yeager, MD, reviewed this article.


"Donating Blood." American Red Cross.