Blood Donation FAQs

If your question is not listed below or if you would like additional information, contact the UNC Health Care Blood Donation Center at 984-974-8290.

What are platelets?

Platelets are small, disc-shaped cells that circulate in the blood after being made in the bone marrow. Cancer patients often require platelet transfusions during their chemotherapy. They are also vital for trauma patients and those undergoing surgical procedures.

Platelets only have a shelf life of 5 days, so it’s important to have a constant supply of platelet donors.

Where do my platelets go?

All platelets collected by UNC Blood Donation Center go directly to patients here at the UNC Medical Center. Within a couple of weeks of your platelets being transfused, you will be notified with a general description of each of your recipients (e.g. 50s male with leukemia).

How are platelets collected?

Platelets are collected by a process called apheresis. First, blood is drawn from the donor’s arm and passed through an apheresis machine. The machine uses a centrifuge to separate the platelets from the rest of the blood. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the same needle. This cycle occurs repeatedly throughout the entire donation. For a single dose, approximately a third of a liter is collected.

How often can I donate platelets?

Single platelet donation can occur every 48 hours, up to 2 times in a 7 day period, or 24 times in a 12 month period. Double/triple platelet donations must wait 7 days between donations.

What can I expect during the screening process?

We will check your vitals – blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature – to make sure they are within acceptable limits. We will also test to ensure your hemoglobin is within acceptable limits before donating. You will then complete a donor history questionnaire to further assess your eligibility.

How long does the platelet donation take?

The actual donation usually lasts 50-75 minutes, but budget up to 2 hours for your entire visit.

What tests are performed on donated blood?

After each donation, your blood will be tested for the following:

  • ABO/Rh blood type
  • Red blood cell antibodies
  • Hepatitis B Virus Surface Antigen (HBsAg) and Core Antibody (Anti-HBc)
  • Hepatitis C Virus antibody
  • Human Immunodeficiency viruses, types 1 and 2 (HIV- 1/2) antibodies
  • Human T-Lymphotropic virus, types I and II (HTLV- I/II) antibodies
  • West Nile Virus
  • Syphilis (Treponema pallidum)
  • Chagas’ disease (Trypanosoma cruzi)
  • Human Leukocyte Antigen, types I and II (HLA- I/II) antibodies

You will be contacted by letter if you are deferred from donating because of these test results.

What should I do before I donate?

Avoid aspirin or aspirin-containing medications at least 48 hours before donation. Make sure you eat within a couple hours before your donation, and drink lots of water in the 24 hours leading up to your appointment time.

The most common reason for deferral is low levels of hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein in your blood that delivers oxygen throughout your body. Donors are encouraged to eat foods high in iron and vitamin C, which can help with the absorption of iron. In addition, caffeine, alcohol, and foods high in fiber and calcium may decrease your ability to absorb iron. .

What should I do after I donate?

Most donors do not experience any fatigue after their donation. However, heavy lifting and strenuous activity should still be avoided for the rest of the day. Keep the bandage on for several hours, and drink extra water to replenish your fluids.

If you feel any abnormal symptoms, please give us a call immediately at 984-974-8290.

Do I get anything for donating?

Platelet donors are considered volunteers and do not receive monetary compensation.

We do have free t-shirts and a wide selection of snacks and drinks to offer while you donate. If 2 or more people donate together, you each receive an AMC movie voucher or Starbucks gift card. If 3-4 people donate together, you also get free pizza for your whole party!

What if I have been deferred from donating blood?

Donor deferrals are either temporary or permanent depending on the reason and may vary slightly between donor centers.

If we defer you, we will inform you at the time if and when you may be eligible to donate with us again.

Can I donate whole blood?

We only collect apheresis platelets and plasma. For whole blood donations, contact the American Red Cross or The Blood Connection.

If you have donated whole blood recently, you must wait 2 weeks before donating platelets with us.

Can I organize a platelet drive?

We collaborate with several local groups and UNC student organizations throughout the year. If you would like to donate as part of a family, church, business, class, or other organization, we are more than happy to reserve a time period for you. Contact us via email or by phone at 984-974-8290 to set up your platelet drive.