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FAQ

Under this heading, we have gathered the replies to frequently asked questions about blood donations. If you are unable to find an answer to your question, and your question concerns the criteria for blood donation, you can read about them here or call a freephone number +358 (0)800 0 5801 on weekdays from 8 to 17. If your question concerns the Stem Cell Registry, you can read more about it in the section on the Stem Cell Registry. If your question generally concerns the Blood Service, you can send an email to info@veripalvelu.fi.

Are the iron supplements given to blood donors suitable for vegans?    

The Ferrodan iron supplement given to blood donors does not contain iron or any other ingredients of animal origin. This sugar-, gluten- and lactose-free supplement is suitable for people with lactose-intolerance and celiac disease, and for vegans. The Ferrodan product is a Finnish dietary supplement that contains vitamin C, to improve its absorption, in addition to iron (ferrous fumarate).

Are the needles used for blood donation safe?    

The Blood Service is responsible for the blood donation being safe both for the patient and donor.  Nurses working at the Blood Service are competent health care professionals and they have been thoroughly trained to their work at the Blood Service.

The needles used for taking blood samples and for blood collection, and any other supplies used are always disposable. Finger-prick samples are taken using a safety lancet that only functions once, and venous blood samples are taken using a disposable safety needle.

The blood bag set used for blood donation is specifically developed for the purpose. The set consists of a safety needle, a sample pouch, a blood collection bag and a combination of bags used in blood product manufacturing.

When the blood collection process ends, the blood collection tube is sealed off from the bag and the needle is withdrawn from the vein and retracted directly into a safety shield, where it locks in and can no longer be exposed.

Used needles are disposed of immediately into their appropriate containers.​

 

Can I come to donate blood without an invitation?    

Yes, you can come to donate even without an invitation. Anyway, during the coronavirus pandemic we strongly advice to book an appointment before coming.

The invitation is a reminder to you to come and donate blood but it may also mean that there is a bigger need than normal for donors from your blood group at the moment. Since our system only allows us to send invitations to the same people at specific intervals, we may not be able to remind you of blood donation as often as the situation would require.

Please follow the blood supply situation on our website and come to donate at least when invited. Read more about invitation messages.

Please complete the electronic health questionnaire here the day before or the same day as the planned blood donation.

Can I donate blood?    

Take the Could I be a donor? test.​

Can I find out my own test results after the donation?    

You have a right to know what has been entered in the Blood Service registry with regards to yourself. You can request your register data in connection with the donation if you have donated blood before. You can also send us a written and signed request. Please enter your personal identity code in the letter.

We will only contact you if the test results suggest an infection. You should never come to donate blood in order to have your blood tested. Also, you should not donate blood if you suspect you may have been infected. Although the blood is already infectious, a recent infection is not visible in tests.

Can I give blood if I'm going on a flight?    

Before taking a long flight, blood donors need to restore their fluid balance. Therefore a long (such as an intercontinental) flight cannot be recommended within less than 24 hours from blood donation. Airlines and aviation organisations often have much stricter rules than this concerning the air crew.

 

Can I give blood if I'm trying to get pregnant?    

Women attempting to become pregnant are advised to avoid blood donation, since they should keep up a good haemoglobin level. However, donating blood once in early pregnancy does not constitute a risk, and blood donation does not increase the risk of miscarriage.

Can I use an interpreter during blood donation?    

The safety of the blood donor and blood products is very important and therefore it is necessary that the donor understands what the Blood Service staff are communicating and vice versa.

Every donor must have the opportunity to independently fill in the health questionnaire and have the interview discussion with a Blood Service nurse. For these reasons, we have very precise requirements concerning language skills and the use of an interpreter. The blood donor must have good enough command of Finnish, Swedish or English to be able to understand the content of the information package distributed to blood donors and fill in the health questionnaire. In the interview, difficult points can be supplemented together with a nurse from the Blood Service.

The use of an interpreter is possible only in case of sensory disability or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – when the donor has an independent official interpreter available for his or her use. A visually impaired person may be accompanied by a personal assistant, but the donor and the Blood Service nurse fill in the health status form together.


 

Does Blood Service aim to earn profit through its operations?    

​The Blood Service is an independent, non-profit unit of the Finnish Red Cross. We cover the costs of our operations and their development by selling cell and blood products and expert services to the Finnish healthcare system. The Blood Service is not supported by government funds or other external sources (neither FRC), except for grants and subsidies for research projects.

In 2017, the Blood Service had a turnover of more than €60 million (2017: €60.6 million) and a net profit for the financial period of €5.5
million. Any financial surplus is not shared but rather used to ensure the continuation and development of activities. The Blood Service’s financial stability is useful for healthcare and society in general, as it allows the organisation to focus on the development of new therapies and research work and to keep the price development of blood products moderate. You can read more about The Blood Service’s finances from our annual report.


 

Does the Blood Service provide disaster relief abroad?    

Blood products do not withstand long journeys or, in general, long-term storage. That is why blood products for disaster areas are sought from as nearby as possible. The International Red Cross coordinates requests for assistance, but none have been made to the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service in recent years.

The Blood Service fulfils its global responsibilities by sharing its expertise and providing expert services, for the development of blood service operations in developing countries, for example. The Blood Service participates in activities such as the relief efforts of the International Red Cross. Starting from 2018 The Blood Service assists the Nepalese blood transfusion service in the reconstruction work following the earthquakes of 2015. Before then, a Blood Service expert participated in projects in the Asian tsunami region.

In principle, for relief work the Blood Service does not use funds raised from the provision of hospital blood products and services. Instead, the expertise it provides is funded from sources such as the Finnish Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.​

 

Does the Blood Service sell blood abroad?    

Donated whole blood is divided into three parts. It is separated into red cells, platelets and plasma. Red cell and platelet products are actual blood products. They are finished at the Blood Service and used for the treatment of patients in Finland.

On occasion the Blood Service is contacted by blood services in other countries, for example in situations in which the patient needs red cells from a rare blood group. If a suitable blood product is found and delivery does not threaten the blood supply in Finland, the product can be delivered abroad. Isolated blood products are delivered abroad once or twice a year, on average.

The plasma separated from the whole blood is used for raw material in plasma-derived medicinal products. These products cannot be reprocessed further in Finland. Thus, the Blood Service sells the plasma abroad to its foreign partners who process the plasma at their fractionation facilities and manufacture it into plasma-derived medicinal products for the treatment of patients. Hospitals purchase plasma-derived medicinal products from different manufacturers according to need. The Blood Service is a distributor of many plasma-derived medicinal products in Finland. Finnish plasma is carefully and effectively used for the benefit of patients.

How does sexual behaviour affect blood donation?    

Since a recent virus infection is not visible in tests, you should never donate blood if you suspect you may have contracted HIV or hepatitis. By selecting donors carefully, the Blood Service aims to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases with the donated blood to the patient.

Some sexually transmitted infections are also transmitted through blood, which is why sexual behaviour has an impact on blood donation. A new sex partner prevents donation for four months, even if a condom has been used. Male homosexual relations cause a four-month ban on donating blood.

If you or your partner has paid for or received payment for sex, you will be barred from donating blood for four months. If your sex partner uses intravenous drugs or pharmaceutical products without a doctor's prescription, you cannot donate blood.

The plasma separated from blood cannot be utilised if a male blood donor has at any time had sex with other men. The Blood Service complies with the blood donor eligibility criteria adopted by medicines manufacturers for plasma to be used as raw material of medicines, and these criteria permanently prohibit blood donation after sex between men. However, blood products (red blood cells and platelets) will be used in the normal way for the treatment of patients in Finnish hospitals.

How long does blood donation take?    

A bag of blood fills up in approximately five to ten minutes All in all, you should reserve from 30 minutes to an hour for the donation and coffee afterwards. In other words, donating blood is a really quick way to help and even save another person's life!​

How much blood is donated? How often can you donate blood?    

Approximately half a litre of blood is donated in one whole blood donation.

Young women between 18-25 years are recommended to donate blood only max. once a year, all other women max. 2-3 times per year and men max. 3-4 times per year. The minimum interval between blood donations is 91 days for women and 61 days for men. You can check your minimum interval date with the donation date calculator.

With regard to the donation of plasma and platelets, the donation interval is shorter because the red cells are returned to the donor's circulation. Read more about different ways to donate blood. ​

How much blood is given to patients in the most common surgical operations?    

The volume of blood reserved for surgery is affected by the difficulty and scope of the operation. For example, in a bypass operation or hip replacement surgery, patients usually need two to three bags of red cells. When possible, bleeding is always avoided in surgery. Also, blood is not given nowadays, if it is not really necessary. For this reason, many surgical operations (e.g. appendectomy, endoscopy of the knee) do not require blood transfusion at all. Sometimes, though, the patient is given ample volumes of blood. For example in a liver transplant operation, tens of litres of blood may be required. Situations such as these are rare, however.​

How quickly is donated blood replaced?    

Blood volume will be replaced within a few hours and can be speeded up by drinking adequately on the day of the donation.

The red cell count will be the same in approximately three months. Red cells live for approximately 120 days or four months and regenerate constantly, regardless of blood donation.

Blood iron concentration recovers in  approximately a couple of months.​ It's important that blood donors get enough iron from their diet to replace the iron loss. To prevent iron deficiency donors must have minimum intervals between donations, and donors in high risk are provided iron supplementation.

How should I prepare for blood donation?    

I am on cholesterol lowering drugs/antihypertensives. Can I still donate blood?    

Cholesterol drugs (e.g. statins) do not prevent blood donation any more if the disease itself is not an obstacle to donation. Also antihypertensives do not necessarily prevent donation. There is a list of the most common matters that affect donation on the Can you donate blood? page.​

I heard that I cannot donate blood because I have lived in the British Isles. Why?    

The human form of BSE or 'mad cow disease', vCJD, can be transmitted even through the blood of an asymptomatic person. There have been no cases of vCJD reported in Finland, but approximately 150 cases of human vCJD have been found in the British Isles. Since the risk of vCJD is related to long-term living in the Britain in particular, all Western countries have restricted blood donation from those who have lived in the British Isles. People who spent over six months in the British Isles between the years 1980 and 1996 are barred from donating blood. This restriction is not likely to be lifted in the near future.​

I'm a woman aged between 18 and 25. Can I only donate blood once a year?    

For women aged 18 to 25, we recommend only one donation per year. This is because blood donor studies have shown that young women have a particularly high risk of developing iron deficiency.

During a single donation, women lose as much as 60–100% of the iron contained in their iron reserves. The reserves are replenished slowly, and the purpose of this recommendation is to promote the replenishment of donors’ iron reserves.

For other women, we recommend a maximum of 2 to 3 blood donations annually, and for men no more than 3 to 4 donations annually.




Is blood donation safe?    

The Blood Service is responsible for the donation being safe both for the donor and patient.

Blood donation is safe and rarely causes any harm for a healthy person. The health questionnaire and interview aim to confirm that the donation is safe for the donor. Blood donation may sometimes be related to some temporary symptoms or discomforts, mainly nausea or bruises. All blood donors are insured against adverse effects or accidents caused by blood donation. Because needles and other equipment used for the blood collection are always disposable, you cannot be infected via blood donation.

The most important thing for the patient receiving the blood is that the blood donor is healthy. Because only a small portion of pathogens can be tested, the careful selection of donors is crucial for the safety of the patient. In addition to the measurement of haemoglobin and the determination of blood group, the blood samples taken in connection with donation are tested for the most important blood-borne infections (HIV, hepatitis A, B and C, syphilis). However, if the donor has been infected very recently, this may not be visible in the laboratory tests and causes a small risk to the patient's safety. The purpose of different-length waiting periods before donation is to prevent donation during this window period. However, the microbe safety of products can never be perfect.​

Is my help really needed?    

Up to now, there have been enough blood donors in Finland. New donors are constantly needed, however, because some donors have to stop donating due to illness or after turning 71, for example.

Nearly 1,000 bags of blood are needed every day. The division of blood groups in donors and patients is the same so we need donors from all blood groups. There can be a shortage of blood even in the most common blood group.

For the time being, no artificial blood has been invented that could replace donated blood. Research is being conducted to develop suitable artificial oxygen transporters (task of the red cells) but it will take a long time before these products are in routine use. It is highly unlikely that all the cells in the blood will ever be artificially replaced.

What is haemoglobin?    

Haemoglobin is a protein in the red cells that contains iron. It caters for the transportation of oxygen in our body. Haemoglobin binds oxygen to itself in the pulmonary circulation and then releases it in the tissues (brain and muscles, for example).

Blood can be donated if the blood haemoglobin concentration is 125–175 g/l for women and 135–195 g/l for men. Donating blood lowers the haemoglobin concentration by approximately 10 g/l.

If the haemoglobin concentration is lower, blood donation could render the donor temporarily anaemic. If the blood is too “thick” it is not readily given to patients. A very high haemoglobin concentration can also be caused by a disease. This is why a donor candidate like this will be asked to see a doctor for more specific examinations.

What is the Blood Service Biobank and how to join?    

The Blood Service Biobank, established in summer 2017, facilitates for instance research into blood donors’ health and wellbeing. In addition, the samples and data collected in the biobank can be used in medical research, for example as a control group.

Biobank materials will only be released to ethically and scientifically acceptable research projects, and they are transferred in coded, i.e. anonymous format, for research purposes. Read more about our biobank research.

Giving a sample is always based on voluntary consent. The samples for the Blood Service Biobank are collected in connection with blood donation, and no extra samples are required. Giving the sample does not affect the duration of the blood donation, the total amount of blood donated, or future blood donations.​

 

What should I do after the donation?    

If you are a first-time donor, rest for a while on the donation bed after the blood collection. Standing still immediately after the donation is not recommended because it may make you feel faint. It is better to either sit down or stay moving. You can avoid the formation of a bruise by bending your arm and applying firm pressure for a few minutes immediately after the donation. Leave the dressing on your arm in place for at least two hours after the donation, and avoid straining the arm the same day.

Donors are offered tea, coffee, juice and snacks. As long as you remember to drink approximately half a litre more of fluids than you normally do, the fluid you have lost during donation will be replaced in approximately 24 hours. We recommend that you refrain from heavy physical exercise or having a sauna on the day of donation so that you do not lose more fluids in the form of perspiration. You can exercise normally the next day, but should avoid strenuous sports for a few days, at least if this is the first time you donate blood. It might take a few weeks for your maximum performance to return – something you may wish to consider if you are planning on taking part in a sports competition or similar heavy physical exercise.

It's important that blood donors get enough iron from their diet to replace the iron loss. To prevent iron deficiency donors must have minimum intervals between donations, and donors in high risk are provided iron supplementation.

If you develop a fever within a week of the donation or you are diagnosed with a serious illness at any time after the donation, you should notify the Blood Service.​

Why are male and female the only choices for reporting your gender?    

In the donor registry, the unique identifier used for blood donors is always the Finnish personal identity code. On the basis of the last digit of the personal identity code, Finland only uses male or female as alternatives for specifying the gender.

In blood donation, gender division into males and females is justified, since due to differences in male and female physiology, the sexes differ in terms of, for example, haemoglobin reference values, and thus the haemoglobin value limits set for blood donation are also different for men and women. It is not possible to set any haemoglobin reference values and, therefore, limits for blood donation for other genders, or for those who do not want to have their gender defined.

The Blood Service uses the gender based on the donor’s official personal identity code. If the personal identity code is changed after a sex change operation, the person's gender is changed also in the donor registry.​

 

Why do blood donation sessions end so early in some localities?    

In certain localities, particularly northern Finland, blood donation sessions end in the afternoon, when the working day is just ending for many people. Finland is a geographically challenging region in terms of blood donation, since donated blood is a fresh product, which must be transported to the Helsinki Blood Service Centre for processing as soon as possible.

In some locations, the schedules of mobile blood service sessions have had to be brought forward for logistical reasons. In the spring of 2017, air transportation from Oulu to Helsinki was exchanged for transport by land; in practice, this means that an overnight bus transports blood donated in northern Finland to Helsinki for further processing. For reasons related to the schedule, the blood bags must therefore begin travelling any long distances already in the afternoon.​

Why does the Blood Service measure donors’ haemoglobin levels but not the iron reserves, such as ferritin?    

Measuring the blood haemoglobin concentration of blood donors is an official requirement. The measurement ensures that the donor does not have anaemia, in other words that their haemoglobin concentration is not too low. Blood donation is possible if the donor’s blood haemoglobin concentration is in the range 125–175 g/l for women and 135–195 g/l for men. One blood donation temporarily lowers the donor’s haemoglobin concentration by 10–15 g/l.

During a blood donation, the donor loses iron. As haemoglobin is not a direct measurement of the body’s iron reserves, work to study the iron reserves of blood donors has been conducted both internationally and in Finland. The studies have measured a range of iron reserve indicators, including ferritin. Ferritin measurement is subject to some inaccuracies and the reading does not give a complete picture of the person’s iron reserves.

Between 2015 and 2019, the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service ran an iron and health survey of blood donors, FinDonor 10 000. The study showed that reduced iron reserves occur among Finnish blood donors, but less frequently than in control countries. Iron deficiency is most common among the youngest female donors (aged 18 to 25). We therefore recommend no more than one blood donation per year for this group. For other women, we recommend a maximum of 2 to 3 blood donations, and for men no more than 3 to 4 donations annually. In terms of individual indicators, donation intervals provide a better indication of iron reserves than for example age or dietary habits.

Based on findings from large international blood donor studies and the FinDonor study, blood donors’ quality of life appears to be unaffected by their ferritin levels. Comparisons of a blood donor group with low ferritin and a group with normal ferritin levels found no difference between the groups in terms of overall quality of life or the occurrence of serious symptoms.

Further international studies are still required to understand the significance of low iron levels in donors who subjectively feel well. The exact significance of iron levels in individuals who feel healthy is not known to date. The Blood Service therefore has no specific ferritin requirement or recommendation for donors who have had their ferritin levels measured. Blood donor studies have generally applied a cut-off point of 15 ug/l. A Finnish review article from 2019 states that iron deficiency should be suspected if a person has symptoms of iron deficiency and a ferritin level of less than 15–30 ug/l. As to blood donation, the interpretation of ferritin levels depends on why iron reserves and ferritin levels were assessed. Persons who have been assessed because of symptoms cannot donate blood if the assessments have shown their symptoms are explained by low ferritin levels. Meanwhile, an incidental finding of low ferritin in an asymptomatic person is no obstacle to blood donation.

At the Blood Service, the prevention of harmful iron deficiency is based on different donation interval recommendations for men and women (see above) and minimum donation intervals (at least 91 days in women and at least 61 days in men); we also provide iron supplements to blood donors at risk (women aged under 50 and all frequent donors). All blood donors must feel well when they donate, and persons who feel fatigued or unusually tired must not donate blood.

If you have been diagnosed with iron deficiency anaemia or another symptomatic iron deficiency condition, these must have been treated. Blood donation is possible once the situation has normalised and at least six months have passed since the start of your iron supplementation.





Why does the Blood Service need O negative donors?    

O negative is the emergency blood type, which is first administered in accident situations and surgical emergencies. It can save anyone of us.

Although the use of red cell components in hospitals has been declining for a long while, the use of emergency blood has increased proportionately. O negative blood must always be in storage in hospitals for sudden needs and major incidents. Even a single patient may dramatically increase the need for O negative blood. In surgical emergencies and sudden major haemorrhage situations, the patient may need dozens of bags of blood at a time.

We have a continuous demand for O negative donors, because, in relative terms, the consumption of emergency blood in hospitals exceeds the number of donors in the population. Currently, a little less than eight per cent of all blood donors are O negative. There are some 10,000 active donors. Around 5 per cent of Finns have type O negative blood, and this group donates a bit more frequently than others.​

 

Why is it not possible to donate blood in all locations?    

The Blood Service collects blood only in accordance with what Finnish hospitals need. Red blood cells are the most widely used blood product in hospitals, meaning that blood is typically collected depending on the demand for red blood cells. During the last decade, the use of red blood cells has markedly decreased as surgical techniques have developed, for example. The Blood Service collected 365,000 bags in the mid-1990s. The corresponding number in 2017 was 205,000.

To prevent the treatment costs of patients receiving blood from becoming excessive, the Blood Service must ensure that its own operations are efficient. Changes in the operating environment are reflected in issues such as the number and location of centres, and the operations of the Mobile Blood Service.

The Blood Service has  permanent service centres in 9 locations in Finland (8 Blood Service centres were closed in 2013). In addition, Mobile Blood Services organise around 1,100 donation sessions every year, collecting around 50 percent of whole blood. The aim is to raise the level of blood donation activity in the Helsinki metropolitan area and major cities in particular, where there is a great deal of blood donor potential.
Mobile blood donation sessions are held in sufficiently large towns and cities, as well as educational institutions, workplaces and garrisons. Read more about the arrangement of blood donation sessions.​

 

Why is male-to-male sexual contact a four-month obstacle to donating blood?    

​Not allowing men who have sex with other men to donate blood has been criticised, and has even been considered discriminatory. Many have been surprised by the Blood Service’s stringent policy concerning male-to-male sexual contact.

It should be borne in mind that our policies restricting blood donorship with regard to sexual behaviour are not intended as a criticism or judgement of any person or group, but are designed to ensure the safety of patients receiving blood components. The four-month waiting period regarding male-to-male sexual contact that is valid in accordance with the current official regulation is based on the epidemiological situation in Finland. Based on infection statistics, male homosexual relations still pose a much higher risk of HIV infection than heterosexual relations.

Male-to-male sexual contact is an obstacle to blood donation in almost all countries. Nowadays, the ensuing ban on donation is usually temporary since, in recent years, many countries have moved from a permanent ban to a temporary deferral based on national risk assessment. These countries include the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, the United States, the Netherlands and France.

The Finnish Red Cross Blood Service (FRCBS) is responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of the donor as well as the patient. Every patient is entitled to receive safe blood components. Blood safety is based on the careful selection of donors and donor blood testing. Furthermore, despite blood screening tests, the careful selection of donors continues to be important, because even the most sensitive tests are unable to detect new infections.

In its operations, the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service (FRCBS) adheres to the current legislation and official regulations.In 2021, the Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea revised its regulation on blood services and shortened the deferral period from 12 to 4 months.

Why is no compensation paid for blood donation?    

In Finland, blood donation has always been based on voluntary, unpaid activity and these factors still form the basis of safe blood transfusions. If compensation were to be paid for blood, it might also attract people who are not motivated to help others. Some might leave crucial matters out of the health questionnaire and the interview. The legislation regarding blood service operations in Finland prohibits payment for blood donation.​

Why is the blood donor card not enough to confirm my identity?    

For the safety of the blood products, reliable identification of the donors is crucial. Blood donors must be able to be identified for each donation without the possibility for error, as specified in the EU directive. According to the legislation regarding blood service operations, the Blood Service must be able to trace the blood products prepared from each bag of blood and the data on the person whose blood was used for 30 years. Tracing the contact details of blood donors is only possible with the help of personal identity codes. This is why you always need to have a photo ID with a Finnish identity code with you when you come to donate blood.

Blood donors receive their blood donor card following their second donation, approximately two months after the donation. The card includes the blood group and donor number and it is intended to remind the donor of donating and his or her own blood group. A blood donor card cannot be used to confirm the donor's identity.

Why is the Blood Service looking for donors of African origin in particular?    

Patients are primarily given blood from their own blood group. Usually, the donor’s ethnic background is irrelevant, because most people have the same blood group properties ABO and Rh.

However, rare blood groups or blood group combinations, not found in others at all, occur in different populations. In such cases, the patient needs blood from a donor of the same ethnic group, who has the same rarity. Also, if the patient requires repeated blood transfusions, suitable donors are easiest to find in the same ethnic group.

For example, U Negative is a rare blood group found specifically in Africa (incidence less than 1%), but so far, we have not found a single blood donor in Finland in this blood group. Currently, there are too few blood donors of African origin in Finland in relation to the increasing number of patients from this growing population group.​

 

Why must a donor weigh at least 50 kilos?    

The human body contains approximately five litres of blood. For safety reasons, the blood extracted for a donation, which totals around half a litre, may not exceed 10% of the total blood in the body. The amount of blood in the body depends on your body weight, and for those weighing under 50 kg it is so small that donating increases the risk of post-donation complications such as faintness, nausea or dizziness. The same weight limit is given in many international recommendations and is mentioned in the European Blood Directive, with which all Member States must comply.​

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