Our doctor, Sue Barnes, answers questions about platelets
- What are platelets and what is a platelet donor?
- Platelets are tiny cells in the blood which help it to clot when a blood vessel is damaged. Platelet donors donate platelets instead of whole blood using a special machine called a cell separator.
- Why are donated platelets important?
- Platelet transfusions are often needed for very sick patients whose bone marrow is not working properly, including cancer or leukaemia sufferers undergoing chemotherapy. A patient with a low platelet count can be at risk of severe bleeding and may need many transfusions of platelets during their recovery.
- Who can be a platelet donor?
- You could become a platelet donor if you are between 17 and 65 years old. You do not need to have given any form of donation before. If you are over 65 you need to have given blood or platelets at least once before and, if you are over 70, you must have given a whole donation within the last two years. Men are most likely to be suitable platelet donors because they usually have a higher blood volume than women. Female donors are also welcome, but they need to have a second blood test to screen for white cell antibodies which can develop following a pregnancy and may cause a reaction in some patients.
- How do you donate platelets and how long does it take?
- Platelets are collected at 24 of our donor centres across the country; please see www.blood.co.uk/platelets to find your nearest centre. The process takes about 90 minutes but donors should allow about two hours to include the screening process and rest period.
- How often can you donate platelets?
- Platelet donors are encouraged to donate regularly, at least once a month and more if possible.
- Is it safe to give platelets regularly?
- When you donate platelets you will be connected to a cell separating machine. As the name of the machine suggests, your platelets are separated from your red cells and your red cells are then returned back to you during the donation process. Your bone marrow will naturally replace the donated platelets within 48-72 hours.
- Do I need to have a particular blood group to donate platelets?
- Platelet donors are needed across all blood groups, however A negative platelets are particularly needed as these can be given to patients with other blood groups.
- How can I become a platelet donor?
- For more information about becoming a platelet donor please call the National Donor helpline on 0300 123 23 23 or visit www.blood.co.uk/platelets
Platelet donor do's and don'ts
- Platelet donors must refrain from donating for five days if they have taken any products containing aspirin. The chemical composition of aspirin impairs the ability of platelets, a component of blood that helps to prevent bleeding, to function properly. We recommend you consult your GP before stopping or starting any medication.
- Normal regular meals before donating are vital for maintaining blood sugars and warding off lightheadedness - but avoid fatty foods, the acids in them can "clog up" the platelets meaning they can't be used.
- The whole platelet donation process takes around 90 minutes so it might be worthwhile bringing along a book or MP3 player to help reduce nervousness and to pass the time.
- Drink plenty of water before during and after your donation to keep your fluid levels up.