Platelet FAQs

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What are platelets?

Platelets are one of the major components of your blood. When they’re sailing around your bloodstream, platelets look like little saucers – sort of streamlined little brothers of red blood cells.

When there’s a break in a blood vessel, platelets become “activated.” Activated platelets look like a aliens from a 1950s sci-fi movie. They’re full of what appear to be tentacles, which help them bind together and encourage other blood-clotting components to join in, in most cases plugging an opening in an artery or vein.

Who needs platelets?

People who have traumatic injuries need platelets beyond what their bodies can produce. People who are undergoing cancer treatments need platelets, because the treatments can reduce the amount of platelets their bodies produce. And people who are receiving transplants often need them as well.

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Why should I donate platelets?

  • They’re in high demand, especially for cancer patients.
  • They have a short shelf life, typically five days or less. These cells tend to stick together, so they can’t be refrigerated and they have to be agitated constantly. Other blood components can be refrigerated and/or stored frozen for longer periods of time. But not platelets.

How do we collect platelets?

There are two typical ways to collect platelets:

  • After a whole blood donation, platelets are separated from red blood cells and plasma in our lab. To make a unit large enough to raise an adult’s platelet count, we need to combine four to six of these separate donations.
  • You can donate just platelets using a process called apheresis. Your blood goes through a machine that separates the platelets and returns the rest of the components to your body. This produces one to three units large enough to affect an adult patient’s platelet count.

How long does it take to donate platelets?

An average donation takes about two hours, or the length of “Frozen.”

What are the requirements?

You have to be at least 16 years old, have had one successful blood donation (or more), and submit a parental consent form. Also, your body needs to have a certain platelet count – which we’ll measure – to see if you are able to donate.

Ever been pregnant? Check out the latest research concerning donation post pregnancy

What do I need to do to get ready to donate?

Don’t take any aspirin or ibuprofen for at least 48 hours before your appointment, since they alter the way platelets work and make them pretty much ineffective. If you need something for aches and pains, use acetaminophen. 

Is it going to hurt?

The process is very similar to giving blood, with just the slight pinch of a needle and passing soreness in your arm. Side effects are pretty much the same as well, including minor tingling of the hands or mouth or a slight chill.

How often can I donate platelets?

You can donate about every seven to 10 days, up to 24 times in a year.

To learn more, watch these videos: