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Almost everywhere in the world, blood transfusion centers are never more than three days away from running out of blood. Life saving to people who have suffered injuries or who undergo surgery, donated blood is difficult to store and impossible to stockpile. Any kind of disaster always puts a strain on hospital blood supplies. Even though it is possible to store blood under refrigeration for as long as 35 to 42 days,
Blood donors are an elite, small, generous segment of the public at large. In the United Kingdom, in a typical year, only about 1 in 25 eligible adults chooses to donate blood. In Australia, only about 1 in 33 eligible adults donates blood as often as once a year. And in the United States, despite massive advertising campaigns and time-off incentives to volunteer blood donors, only about 1 in 125 adults gives blood as often as once a year.
It's trite, but it's true that giving blood can save a life. However, the benefits of giving blood can be much more specific. Here are the top five.
- The blood you give isn't necessarily given to a stranger. Autologous donation enables you to stockpile blood (although only at most one pint, to be used within 7 weeks) for yourself, in anticipation of your having surgery. Replacement donation allows you to pay back the blood bank when a friend or relative receives a transfusion.
- Giving blood tends to be heart-healthy. Men who give blood regularly, in particular, are less likely to have heart attacks and strokes, probably because donation removes excessive amounts of clotting factors.
- If you happen to have a hereditary condition called hemochromatosis, an iron overload disease, giving blood is unquestionably therapeutic. Some people have just one or two of the four genes associated with the disease, and develop lower bloodstream iron levels. These iron levels may not be high enough to be treated as if they were "full blown" hemochromatosis, but they may be high enough to increase the risk of diabetes, nerve damage, liver damage, and heart disease. Giving blood regularly keeps iron levels down.
- The donor screening process identifies correctable health problems that you may not want to ask your doctor about. Every blood donor is screened for HIV, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis, and many are screened for cytomegalovirus, West Nile virus, Creuzfeld-Jakob disease, and malaria. Chances are that you wouldn't walk into your doctor's office and ask "Do I have malaria?" If you give blood, and you have a disease that you need to know about, you'll find out when your blood is screened.
- Many blood centers put donors at the top of the list for blood transfusions when blood is in short supply. If you regularly donate to your blood bank, most of the time they will make a special effort to help you when you need them.