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Blood supply shortages can be solved by shortening blood donation intervals

In a recent long-term study, blood donors were studied to determine if shortening blood donation intervals is safe for donors and whether this strategy can prevent blood supply shortages.

Blood donation is a vital component for patient care. As such, healthy donors are consistently needed to maintain the supply of blood within healthcare facilities. In the United Kingdom, after donating blood, women must wait 16 weeks before their next donation, and men must wait 12 weeks. This is important as the body requires time to produce whole blood, which includes the formation of haemoglobin and re-establishing healthy iron levels. If these requirements are not met, donors may experience donation-specific symptoms such as fainting, feeling faint, tiredness, breathlessness, palpitations, dizziness, chest pain, and restless legs. In addition to this, low levels of iron are typically found and prescription iron supplements may be required. Therefore, it is important to determine the most effective and beneficial period of time between successive donations.

In a recent study published in The Lancet, researchers studied the long-term efficiency and safety of donating whole blood within shorter periods of time between each donation. This was a two-year extension of the INTERVAL trial, which showed that inter-donation intervals for whole blood donation can be safely reduced to meet blood supply shortages. The participants were blood donors aged 18 years or older from 25 NHS Blood and Transplant centres in England, U.K., and were randomly assigned to different inter-donation intervals (8, 10, and 12 weeks for men; and 12, 14, and 16 weeks for women). From the original INTERVAL trial, 20,757 participants agreed to continue in the two-year extension and were assigned to receive either intensive (email, text, and phone call) or routine reminders for donation appointments. The study focused on retrieving data on the total number of donations made per year, the number of deferrals based on safety and concentration levels of haemoglobin and ferritin, quality of life, and symptoms related to donation.

The study reported that by using shorter blood donation intervals, in addition to providing more intensive reminders, more blood was collected. This did not have major adverse effects on mental and physical wellbeing, nor overall quality of life, but it did result in more deferrals. This was a result of changes in biomarkers of iron homeostasis and was supported by findings of low haemoglobin levels, decreased serum ferritin, and mean haemoglobin concentrations, along with changes in other red blood cell parameters.

The study also reported that 4% of participants were prescribed iron, and 16% of men and 22% of women required the use of over-the-counter iron supplements after the study was completed. These results are consistent with previous studies, suggesting that shorter intervals are associated with lower iron availability in the body.

Overall, it can be suggested that by maintaining healthy iron levels and haemoglobin concentrations, donors can provide blood to meet the blood supply shortages. With the addition of more intensive reminders and shorter intervals between donations, more patients can be saved while at the same time keeping donors healthy.


Written by P. Sukumar


Reference: Kaptoge, S., et al. (2019). The Lancet. Longer-term efficiency and safety of increasing the frequency of whole blood donation (INTERVAL): extension study of a randomised trial of 20 757 blood donors.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay



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