As few as 3 percent of Americans eligible to donate blood do, and fear and anxiety are common reasons why many decline to give. U.S. hospitals are always in need of new donors; at Mayo Clinic, that need is heightened by concern about iron deficiency in frequent givers. Mayo recently began requiring people to wait 12 weeks rather than eight between donations, a change that means an estimated 10 percent drop in its blood supply. To inspire more people to give blood, Manish Gandhi, M.D., medical director of the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Center, addresses six common blood donation phobias:
Fear of needles: Needles used in blood donation definitely are not the harpoons that needle-phobic people may think they are. Dr. Gandhi says donors feel a pinprick, much like getting a vaccination.
"You can consider this like taking a flu shot, but at the same time, potentially you can help at least three people by one whole blood donation," he says. Dr. Gandhi encourages those afraid of needles to put their fear to rest by visiting a blood donation center to see the needles being used.
Fear of the sight of blood: "You don't have to see the blood," Dr. Gandhi says. "Our seats have TVs on them; you can watch a movie, you can watch a show while you are donating blood, so you don't have to look at it."
Fear of fainting: Donor centers take steps to prevent fainting. Few people faint, and research has shown that just because it happens once, that doesn't mean it will again, Dr. Gandhi says. "We are continuously looking at different ways that can be avoided."
Fear of nausea: Easily avoided, Dr. Gandhi says: "Eat a healthy breakfast or eat a full meal, keep yourself hydrated, and then come and donate blood. And don't be thinking about 'Oh, this is such a big needle,' or the anxiety. Maybe a good idea would be to start thinking about a good song or watch a show, or do something. I think distraction is the key to successful donation."
While eating before donating is important, it may be best to avoid a fatty meal such as a cheeseburger, fries and milkshake: It can change your plasma's appearance. Plasma normally looks a bit like clear chicken broth; a fatty meal, and it looks more like gravy. Click here to see the difference.
"It's fine, it's normal, but sometimes it's not aesthetically pleasing to someone, so we don't want plasma that is full of fat molecules," Dr. Gandhi.
Fear that if you give once, the center will pester you to give again: Blood banks tend to respect donors' privacy and how frequently they like to be called, Dr. Gandhi says.
Fear giving blood will lead to a health problem: Potential donors are screened for health problems to make sure they are healthy enough to give. "In most cases, a healthy person — donating blood would probably do them good, because basically you are going to replenish new blood," Dr. Gandhi says.