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Blood FAQ's

Do I get paid for giving blood?
No. All Red Cross blood donors are volunteers.

Does the Red Cross sell blood?
No. There is never a fee for the blood itself. The Red Cross charges for expenses incurred in recruiting and educating donors, keeping accurate donor records, collecting blood by trained staff, processing and testing blood in a state of the art laboratory, and storing and distributing blood.

What is the difference between whole blood and blood components?

Blood may be transfused as whole blood or as one of its many components. Up to four components may be derived from one unit of blood. These include red blood cells, plasma, platelets, and cryoprecipitated antihemophilic factor (AHF). Since patients seldom require all of the components of whole blood, it makes sense to transfuse only that portion of blood needed by the patient for a specific condition or disease. This treatment, referred to as "blood component therapy," allows several patients to benefit from one unit of donated whole blood. Improvements in cell preservative solutions over the last 15 years have increased the shelf-life of red blood cells from 21 to 42 days.

What is whole blood?

Whole blood is living tissue circulating through the heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries carrying nourishment, electrolytes, hormones, vitamins, antibodies, heat, and oxygen to the body's tissues. Whole blood contains red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets suspended in a watery fluid called plasma.

What are red blood cells?

Red blood cells (RBCs) are perhaps the most recognizable component of whole blood. RBCs contain hemoglobin, a complex iron-containing protein that carries oxygen through the body and gives blood its red color. The percentage of blood volume composed of red blood cells is called the "hematocrit." The average hematocrit in an adult male is 47 percent. There are about one billion red blood cells in two to three drops of blood, and for every 600 red blood cells, there are about 40 platelets and one white cell. RBCs may be treated and frozen for extended storage, up to 10 years.

Manufactured in the bone marrow, RBCs are continuously produced and broken down. They live for about 120 days in the circulatory system and are eventually removed by the spleen. Red blood cells are prepared from whole blood by removing plasma, or the liquid portion of the blood, and are used to raise the patient's hematocrit and hemoglobin levels while minimizing an increase in blood volume.

Patients who benefit most from transfusions of red blood cells include those with chronic anemia resulting from kidney failure, malignancies or gastrointestinal bleeding and those with acute blood loss resulting from trauma. Since red blood cells have reduced amounts of plasma, they are well-suited for treating anemia patients, such as patients with congestive heart failure or those who are elderly or debilitated, who would not tolerate the increased volume provided by whole blood.

What are prestorage leuko-reduced red blood cells?

This form of RBCs requires special preparation by removing leukocytes (white blood cells) by filtration within 48 hours of donation. This is done because high numbers of leukocytes remaining in a unit of RBCs during the storage process can fragment and deteriorate releasing cytokines (chemicals that effect the inflammatory response). Fragments of leukocytes have been implicated as a cause of blood recipients developing allergies to subsequent blood transfusions.

What is plasma?

Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood--a protein-salt solution in which red and white blood cells and platelets are suspended. Plasma, which is 90 percent water, constitutes 55 percent of blood volume. Plasma contains albumin (the chief protein constituent,) flbrinogen (responsible, in part, for the clotting of blood) and globulins (including antibodies). Plasma serves a variety of functions, from maintaining a satisfactory blood pressure and volume, to supplying critical proteins for blood clotting and immunity. It also serves as the medium of exchange for vital minerals such as sodium and potassium, helping maintain a proper balance in the body, which is critical to cell function. Plasma is obtained by separating the liquid portion of blood from the cells.

Fresh frozen plasma (FFP) is frozen shortly after donation to preserve clotting factors, stored up to one year and thawed just before use. It is transfused for severe liver disease or multiple clotting deficiencies.

What is cryoprecipitate?

Cryoprecipitate is the portion of plasma-rich clotting factors, including Factor VIII and fibrinogen. "Cryo" is removed from plasma by freezing and then slowly thawing the plasma. It is used to prevent or control bleeding in those with hemophilia and von Willebrand syndromes, the most common inherited major coagulation abnormalities. Another use is to mix it with thrombin making a fibrosealant which can be applied to a wound site to prevent bleeding.

What are platelets?

Platelets (or thrombocytes) are small blood components that help the clotting process by sticking to the lining of blood vessels. Platelets are made in the bone marrow and survive in the circulatory system for about nine days before being removed from the body by the spleen. The platelet helps prevent massive blood loss and blood vessel leakage resulting from trauma.

Platelets are prepared by using a centrifuge to separate the platelet-rich plasma from the donated unit of whole blood. Platelets may also be obtained from a donor by a process known as apheresis, or plateletpheresis . In this process, blood is drawn from the donor into an apheresis instrument which separates the blood into its components, retains some of the platelets, and returns the remainder of the blood to the donor. This single donor platelet product contains about six times as many platelets as a unit of platelets obtained from whole blood. Platelets are used to treat a condition called thrombocytopenia, in which there is a shortage of platelets, and platelet function abnormalities. Platelets can be stored at room temperature for up to five days.

What are white blood cells?

White blood cells are responsible for protecting the body from invasion by foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses. The majority of white blood cells are produced in the bone marrow, where they outnumber red blood cells by 2 to 1. However, in the blood stream, there are about 600 red blood cells for every white blood cell. There are several types of white blood cells. Granulocytes and macrophages protect against infection by surrounding and destroying invading bacteria and viruses, and lymphocytes aid in the immune defense system.

Granulocytes are prepared by apheresis or by centrifugation of whole blood. They must be transfused within 24 hours after collection and are used for infections that are unresponsive to antibiotic therapy.

What are plasma derivatives?

Plasma derivatives are concentrates of specific plasma proteins prepared from pools (many donor units) of plasma. Plasma derivatives are obtained through a process, known as fractionation, developed during World War II, and are heat treated and/or solvent detergent-treated to kill certain viruses like those that cause AIDS and hepatitis B and C. Plasma derivatives include:

  • Factor VIII Concentrate
  • Factor IX Concentrate
  • Anti-Inhibitor Coagulation Complex (AICC)
  • Albumin
  • Immune Globulins, including Rh Immune Globulin
  • Anti-ThrombinIII Concentrate
  • Alpha 1-Proteinase Inhibitor Concentrate

What if I have more questions about blood and/or blood banking?

Please visit the Contact Us(hyperlink) page.