Various companies and organizations collect plasma. Some pay for donations and some don’t. All the medical uses of plasma are important to our healthcare system. While you can safely donate plasma more frequently than whole blood, opinions on the safe frequency of plasma donation vary from twice a week to once every 4 weeks. Payment varies, but is it typically $30-45 per donation. Before deciding to donate plasma, take a few minutes to learn more about the industry, the donation process and the potential effects on your own health.
First, What is Plasma?
Blood contains 4 components: plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Plasma is a straw-colored liquid consisting of water, sugar, fat, protein and salts.
Plasma’s job is to carry blood cells, oxygen, nutrients, antibodies, hormones, etc. throughout your body. Plasma cannot be manufactured. It comes only from donors.
Who Collects Plasma and Why?
- Non-profits such as America’s Blood Centers, Community Blood Services and the American Red Cross
- Various hospitals which may or may not be non-profit and,
- For-profits such as CSL Plasma and Baxter International’s BioLife Plasma Services.
The FDA regulates, licenses and inspects all blood and plasma centers.
Non-profits and hospitals don’t pay for donations. Non-profits sell their plasma to hospitals which use it to treat burn victims and other patients.
For-profits pay for donations. Some like those mentioned above are subsidiaries of pharmaceutical companies. Others are not and sell their plasma to drug companies. The drug industry uses plasma to make medicines to treat blood-clotting disorders like hemophilia and other deficiency disorders, such as Gaucher’s Disease and to make antidotes and vaccines.
What is the Plasma Donation Process?
- In accordance with FDA requirements, you will be asked about your medical history, general health, medications taken and travel outside the country.
- There is a brief physical exam consisting of measuring your weight, blood pressure, pulse and temperature.
- A drop of blood is taken from your finger and analyzed for total protein and hematocrit to make sure it is safe for you to donate.
- You are comfortably reclined for donation. A technician inserts a sterile needle in a vein in your arm. All the tubing, etc. is sterile and used only once and discarded for your safety and the safety of the eventual recipients.
- Blood is removed, the blood cells and platelets are separated from the plasma and returned to your body. The plasma is retained. This process is called plasmapheresis and it is the reason why plasma donation takes longer than whole blood donation.
- After you’re finished donating, you will be led to an area to rest and have something to drink and eat. This is to make sure you are feeling OK before you leave.
- The first time, allow 2-3 hours. After that, it takes about 90 minutes.
What Are the Side-Effects of Donating Plasma?
- The same as for blood donation and having blood drawn for labs: possible dizziness, fainting, nausea and rarely, convulsions and shock.
- As with blood donation, you may be thirsty afterward.
- Frequent donors (twice a week vs. every 4 weeks) are at greater risk of dehydration, reduced resistance to infection from depletion of their immunoglobins and possible vein scarring and hardening. Taking proper care of yourself will reduce the first two risks.
- The long-term effects of giving regular plasma donations are inconclusive. Many sources state that there are little to no long-term effects, however a lack of comprehensive research fails to prove this is true. It is advisable that you take caution and exercise common sense if you decide to donate plasma on multiple occasions.
How Do I Prepare for Donating to Minimize these Side Effects?
- Be sure to drink plenty of non-alcoholic liquids the night before and the day of donation, especially water and juices. Avoid alcohol for at least 4 hours after donating.
- Eat a regular meal no more than 3 hours before donating. Avoid fatty foods which can cloud your plasma and can prevent you from donating.
- Get plenty of rest before and after.
How Often Can I Donate?
- Your body should replace the lost plasma in 48 hours, so some think it is safe to donate twice a week. Others say only every 28 days.
- What is safe for you depends on your general health and how carefully you prepare yourself for donation and take care of yourself afterwards.
- If you are feeling tired and run down or you suspect that your health is suffering as a result of donating your plasma, consider giving your body a longer time to recuperate.
What Determines How Much I Am Paid?
- People with certain antibodies, vaccines and other factors in their blood are paid more because their plasma is more valuable.
- Some companies pay more for repeat donors to encourage donation.
Are Non-Profits Centers Safer than For-Profits?
- In a word, NO.
- In fact, the riskiest place to donate is the American Red Cross (ARC). Since 1985, the FDA has found persistent deficiencies in the ARC’s procedures and handling of blood products.
- In 2003, the FDA received special permission from a federal court to impose fines on the ARC for repeated failures to correct problems found during inspections. The FDA is not authorized to fine any other blood collection company or organization.
- This 2008 New York Times article summarizes the FDA’s history of trying to get the Red Cross to comply with regulations intended to safeguard the nation’s blood supply.
- Most recently, the American Red Cross was fined $9.6 million in 2012 and $16 million in 2010.
How Do I Find a Plasma Donation Center?
- First you can go to the websites of the companies mentioned above: CSL Plasma or BioLife Plasma Services.
- Or you can search for a nearby center at: Donatingplasma.org
Making an Appointment
- Call the center to make an appointment.
- Be sure to ask what ID you have to bring.
- And, bring a book or something else to help pass the time.
Donating plasma saves lives. And it can help supplement your income. But, be sure to weigh the risks and take the recommended precautions to minimize any risk to your own health.