Can a teen donate blood?
The answer is a resounding “yes,” if that teen is 16 and older, is in good health and meets certain height and weight requirements.
“The No. 1 killer of teens is accidents often involving motor vehicles where blood loss is common,” according to Dr. James Meyer, a Marshfield Clinic Health System adolescent medicine specialist. “In this way, how wonderful it is to have teens who want to support their peers and family members who may have had situations like surgeries or accidents where blood was needed.”
Blood drives at high schools typically provide the chance for teens to make their first blood donation. High school drives have been cancelled in the last year because of COVID-19 but blood centers would welcome young donors.
Wisconsin is one of about 30 states that permit 16-year-old youths to donate blood with parent or guardian consent. Once a teen turns 17 parent consent is not required.
Minimum height, minimum weight
Total blood volume depends on body size, Meyer explained, so teens must be at a minimum weight and height to donate.
Tables show minimum weight for various heights for teens ages 16-18 to donate. For example, males 4’10” must weigh 120 pounds and girls 4’10” need to weigh 146 pounds. Guys over 5’ can donate if they weigh more than 110 pounds. Girls can donate at 110 pounds if they are 5’6” or taller. Girls shorter than that must weigh more. At age 19, all donors must weigh more than 110 pounds.
Iron makes a difference
“The biggest concern is a teen’s diet is not typically high in iron,” Meyer said, “and growing teens need more iron than adults. Girls who menstruate are losing some iron regularly and are at even higher risk of iron deficiency. If they donate they may drop their iron levels which can lead to anemia, where hemoglobin in blood carrying oxygen to the body organs may be decreased.”
Not all donation sites may check donors for anemia or iron. Teens may be allowed to donate and if their iron levels are low their diet may not replace that iron.
“This will be more of an issue with athletes who participate in timed, competitive endurance sports like running and swimming,” Meyer said. “Their performance times may be negatively affected for a few weeks after they donate especially if they do not replenish their iron stores. Athletes might want to time their donation for less competitive seasons.”
Reacting to needles, blood, pain
“Certainly, there will be teens who want to donate but who develop symptoms related to fear of needles, sight of blood and reaction to pain,” he said. “Some teens will try to get through donating without acknowledging physical symptoms. Some may be quite embarrassed if they do pass out. Donating sites need to be aware and cautious to prevent negative peer ridicule for adolescent donors who feel faint, develop nausea, get emotional or have other reactions.”
Also, some teens who have used substances may fear they will get caught or think they cannot donate blood, Meyer said. “Teens are not turned away from donation centers if they used pot but they should be healthy and feel normal on the day of donation. Most blood centers do not test donors’ blood for cannabis, the active ingredient in pot.”
Advice for teen donors
On the day of donation, Meyer suggests teens should ensure they are healthy, got a good night’s sleep, have eaten good meals and hydrate well. It’s also best for first-time donors to not drive themselves home after that donation. To replenish iron stores over the next eight weeks after donating, teens should eat iron-rich foods like red meats and green leafy vegetables including spinach or take an iron supplement.
“Teens who donate show maturity,” he said. “It is not just ‘about you’ and donating shows great civic responsibility. We all need to give back and take care of others and our communities.”