Most common donor reactions

The donation of blood, plasma or blood platelets does not normally cause complications. But some people may experience a reaction. Our staff at the blood collection points do all they can to manage these adverse donor reactions. Obviously, as a donor, your insurance will cover any additional medical expenses.

Bruising or haematoma

  • What are the signs? Blood gathers in the subcutaneous tissue in the form of a bruise or hae-matoma and may cause some localised pain. The pressure caused by large haematomas can sometimes cause nerve irritation. This normally heals without treatment.
  • What should you do? A cold compress may provide relief in the first few hours. Avoid any overexertion of the arm in the first 12 hours. Take paracetamol (not aspirin) if you feel any pain. On the day after your donation you can apply Arnican cream twice daily to the puncture site.
  • What is the cause? This can happen if the needle went through the vein or if not enough pres-sure was applied after the needle was withdrawn. It can also be caused by your medication (aspirin, anticoagulants).

Residual bleeding at the puncture site

  • What are the signs? The puncture site begins to bleed again.
  • What should you do? Remove the pressure bandage. Apply continued pressure to the punc-ture site. Apply a new pressure bandage once the bleeding has stopped. Avoid overexerting your arm in the first 12 hours after donating.
  • What is the cause? This can happen if not enough pressure was applied to the puncture site, if you exerted your arm too soon after donating or as a result of certain medications.

Nerve irritation – nerve injury

  • What are the signs? You feel a sharp pain radiating from the puncture site and/or pins and needles or numbness in your arm, hand or fingers. Reduced muscle strength is rare.
  • What should you do? Apply a cold compress. Take paracetamol if you feel any pain. This usually gets better without any treatment. If your pain continues or worsens, or your muscle strength weakens, it is best to see your doctor.
  • What is the cause? This can be the result of pressure on the nerve in your arm, either through bruising or direct damage by the needle.

Arterial puncture (blood drawn from an artery)

  • What are the signs? An arterial puncture is when the blood is drawn from the artery. If the doctor tells you that your artery has been punctured you should be on the lookout for a rapid, pulsating flow of bright red blood, which might lead to a haematoma.
  • What should you do? Press firmly on the puncture site for at least 10 minutes (with staff assis-tance). Apply a pressure bandage once the bleeding has stopped. If properly treated, an arte-rial puncture will heal without further complication. If you do experience complications, consult a doctor. What are the complications? Worsening pain or swelling of the forearm, pins and needles or numbness in the fingers, paleness/coldness of the forearm or hand. Avoid overex-erting your arm in the first 12 hours after donating.
  • What is the cause? This can happen if the artery in your arm, or one if its branches, is acci-dentally punctured.

Nausea, light-headedness or fainting

  • What are the signs? Your skin is pale and clammy, you feel nauseous, your legs are weak or you are light-headed. You might suddenly faint – perhaps injuring yourself in the process. Some donors may even suffer convulsions (involuntary muscle contractions) and incontinence.
  • What should you do? Lie down on your back, making sure your feet are elevated above your head (Trendelenburg position) and apply a cold damp cloth to your forehead. Drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol, large meals and hot baths.
  • What is the cause? These donor reactions are caused by a temporary slowing of the heart and a drop in blood pressure. They may also be due to emotional stress, pain from the needle or the sudden reduction in blood volume.

Weakness

  • What are the signs? Some donors may feel weak after giving blood. If they suffer a fall at this time, they may injure themselves.
  • What should you do? We recommend that after giving blood you have a sugary soft drink and rest up for about 15 minutes. This is probably the best way to avoid an adverse reaction.
  • What is the cause? Weakness is usually caused by a drop in blood pressure. It can also lead to fainting or loss of consciousness.

Stomach pain or nausea

  • What are the signs? Some donors experience stomach pain, nausea or feelings of sickness af-ter giving blood. This can take the form of fatigue in the legs, a strange taste in the mouth, tin-gling lips, a feeling of coldness or stomach or bowel pains.
  • What should you do? Lie down on your back, making sure your feet are elevated above your head (Trendelenburg position) and apply a cold damp cloth to your forehead. Drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol, large meals and hot baths.
  • What is the cause? If you donate plasma or blood platelets, you may experience a problem with the anticoagulant we use to prevent the blood from clotting during the donation process. This can lead to a temporary blood calcium deficiency, which increases the sensitivity of your muscles and nerves.

 

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