Donating blood is a simple act, but it can save lives! It only takes around 20 minutes, but to a person, it can mean a lifetime! I started to donate blood a long time ago. Back home it was very easy. Go to the donation center, sign up, and you are good to go. Here in Sweden if first seemed so much more complicated! But it’s not. Keep reading to find out why donating blood is so important, and how it works in Sweden.
Why do we need to donate blood?
As you maybe know, blood can not be manufactured in a factory. Despite a lot of research that is going into this field, it is only our bodies that produce blood. And there is a lot of need for blood. According to the Swedish blood donation organization GeBlod, we use one bag of blood every minute! 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Around 100 000 people in Sweden need blood per year. This is a tremendous amount. To have enough blood, there is a constant need for blood. In Sweden, this is done on a voluntary base and without compensation.
For what is the blood needed?
One obvious answer is of course for peoples that have been in severe accidents and lost a lot of blood. But that is actually not for what most of the blood used for. Most blood is used for people undergoing cancer treatment, orthopedic surgeries, cardiovascular surgeries or are treated for inherited blood disorders.
In elementary school, you most probably learned about the different blood types that we have. There is A, B, AB and 0. Besides that, you are either rhesus positive or rhesus negative. Depending on your combination (like A+, or B-) you can donate blood to certain other people, or receive blood from people.
If you are interested in learning more about the different combinations, OneBlood has a nice overview graphic.
In Sweden, the most common blood types are A+ and B+. If you are O-, you can donate to everybody else. But people with O- can only receive blood from other 0- donors!
How can you donate blood in Sweden?
To be allowed to donate blood in Sweden, you need to fulfill a couple of criteria. You need to be between 18-60 years old, being healthy, weight at least 50 kg. In addition to these, there are some additional requirements to minimize the risk of transmitting any diseases. As an example, after traveling to certain countries you need to wait a little while before you can donate again. You also have to wait a couple of months after you got a piercing or a tattoo, or when you changed sexual partners. These are just some of the standard requirements.
You will be asked all these (and more) questions every time you donate blood. It’s important to answer them correctly. Some more unique requirments for Sweden are that you need to have a Swedish person number and be able to talk and understand Swedish. For me, this last part was for a long time the reason I did not donate blood. I thought my Swedish would not be good enough! If you are also still learning Swedish, read more on the Newbie blog how to learn Swedish.
Some special considerations for Newbies.Since recently, English speaking people are welcome to donate blood in Stockholm. To certain times and at certain places. Find out more here.
If you were born and lived the first five years in a region with Malaria, you need to wait three years until you can donate after each visit.
Were you in the UK for more than six months between 1980 and 1996? In that case you can not donate blood in Sweden. This is due to the outbreak of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in the UK during this time.
If you are not sure if you are allowed to donate blood, check out the GeBlod.se or call your local blood donation center.
How does donating blood work?
The first thing I did was to register myself at the Swedish blood donation organisation GeBlod. At this first appointment, I needed to fill in a general questionnaire. A very friendly nurse then went through the questionnaire with me. I already know the procedure from before, which gave me the confidence to have this conversation in Swedish. They took some blood to check whether there are any infections. Quite quickly afterward I received a message that I was accepted as a blood donor.
At my first proper blood donation, I needed to fill in another questionnaire. They design the questions to see whether you are currently healthy. It is also there to check whether you have been exposed to any potential risks within the last couple of months. For many diseases, like HIV, there is a window where you are infected, but a test will still be negative. Therefore, you are not allowed to donate blood as an example if you got a tattoo recently.
After I filled in my questionnaire, I briefly spoke with a nurse. Then I laid down on a chair, and the nurse places a needle in the vein in the arm. Over all the years I have donated blood, this was never hurtful. The nurses at the blood donation center are very skilled and professional. So it will hurt less than a normal vaccine shot! Once the needle is in and the blood is running, they will collect the first blood to run some blood analysis and send it to the lab to check for infections. They will do that every time you donate blood. After that, they connect you to a blood bag and you just have to wait until the blood bag is full. This usually takes between 10-15 minutes. During this time, the nurses will keep an eye on you and check that you are okey.
Once they collect enough blood, the blood flow stops automatically. During a normal blood donation, they collect 4.5dl blood. This is around 1/10 of your total blood. As your body is producing new blood every day, it will soon compensate for this loose. However, you should not do any heavy exercises right after you have donated blood.
In Sweden, you receive a text message when your blood has been used! Isn’t this such a great way to make you aware how important your donation is!
Are there alternatives?
Yes, there are. Many research centers/universities need regularly blood samples for their research projects. In most cases, they will be happy to have you as a donor even if you don’t speak Swedish. Usually, they take less blood than during a normal blood donation. Donating your blood to research helps scientists to understand more about our blood and diseases, and allows them to develop new therapies. So in the long run, you might also save lives by donating blood to Science! Keep an eye out for advertisement of this at your local university/research institute.
Have you donated blood since you moved to Sweden? Tell us about your experience!
Written by Michaela Roth
My name is Michaela and I grew up surrounded by mountains in Switzerland. When I moved to flat Lund to do my Ph.D., I initially thought it would only be for the 4 years that it takes to obtain this degree. Of course, life had other plans, and falling in love with a Swede changed my life completely. I am passionate about science, outdoor activities, and balancing multicultural traditions.