Teens and donating blood

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
May 20, 2008 4:09:00 PM PDT
More and more blood donors are teenagers these days. Some are just 16 years old. But a new study finds they're also more likely to experience adverse reactions.Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

Donating blood is an extremely safe and easy experience for most people. It's always easier when people drink water and eat something prior to donations, but occasionally, especially in young people, there can be very minor problems like dizziness.

Teenage blood donation is increasing across the United States. In New York and in 21 other states, teens as young as 16 are allowed to donate blood.

Two of the 22 states don't even require a parent's consent.

Dr. Ann Alder, of the American Red Cross, says teen donations are important.

"The blood supply depends on the commitment of our volunteer donors," she said.

But new findings show that teens are also more likely than adults to experience some minor adverse reactions.

"In 16- and 17-year-olds, 11 percent will experience a reaction, compared to 8 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds and about 3 percent of donors older than 20 years," Dr. Adlers said.

The researchers at the American Red Cross analyzed about 145,000 teen donations in 2006.

They found the majority of adverse reactions in 16- and 17-year-olds are mild, including lightheadedness and dizziness. But a small percent will also experience fainting or may lose consciousness, and a handful may become physically injured due to a fall.

"We believe this study indicates a need for awareness and preparedness, especially on high school blood drives," Dr. Adler said.

The study finds that the reactions occur right after donations, usually in the refreshment area of the blood drive, in a restroom or in another area of the school.

"We collect this data so that we can understand what's going on and so that we can evaluate the steps that we take, hopefully to improve safety," Dr. Adler said.

It's not entirely clear why young blood donors are more likely to experience these reactions. Researchers believe the way teens respond to emotional and physical stress may account for part of the reason. But having a well-trained staff aware of the possibilities will be important to recognize and treat these reactions.