Donating Blood When You Have MS

Donating blood
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While it may be easy to decide that you want to donate blood, if you have multiple sclerosis (MS), you may wonder if it's permitted and safe. While the American Red Cross, an organization that stores and transports blood for disaster relief, does not list MS as an exclusion, there are times when donating when you have this neurological disease is not advised.

Depending on which type of MS you have, you may times when you feel better or worse. It is these ups and downs, as well as the medications you take, that have an impact on whether you can donate blood—not the fact that you have MS alone.

Guidelines, Requirements, and Recipient Safety

The American Red Cross has eligibility guidelines that dictate who is allowed to give blood and who isn't. This helps ensure that the blood is safe and free of disease, and also that the person who is donating doesn't suffer any harmful side effects.

MS itself is not contagious, and there is no evidence that donating your blood could trigger MS or any disease in a recipient.

A research study published in 2014 suggested that serum from people with MS, when applied to a laboratory sample of tissue, can impair the blood-brain barrier (an important protective feature of the capillaries in the brain). The researchers suggested that this could mean that recipients of blood donated from MS patients may be at risk of disease or infection.

But the study results were not replicated, and the official recommendations remain unchanged—allowing people with MS to donate blood.

While MS is not an exclusion, it is a chronic disease. There is an important section of the eligibility guidelines that addresses chronic diseases. It states: "Most chronic illnesses are acceptable as long as you feel well, the condition is under control, and you meet all other eligibility requirements."

Eligibility requirements also include:

  • Not being currently sick
  • Being at least 17 years old (or 16 with parental consent)
  • Weighing at least 110 pounds
  • Not having given blood within the last eight weeks
  • Not being pregnant
  • Not having recently traveled to an area where malaria is found

Donating and Your Health

MS does not create any specific safety issues for your own health when it comes to donating blood. And donating blood does not make MS worse.

That said, an active infection of any kind (even a mild one) excludes you from donating blood not just because some infections can be transmitted to an already sick recipient, but because you can feel even worse than you already do after having some of your blood (which helps you fight infection) removed from your system.

Most healthy blood donors feel a bit tired for a few days after donating blood. Fatigue and exhaustion, of course, are common symptoms of MS, so donating blood can compound these symptoms. This is of additional concern if you have anemia (low red blood cells) as well.

Additionally, if you are having an MS exacerbation, donating blood can make you feel worse and can make it harder for you to recover.

People with hypotension (low blood pressure) may feel lightheaded or can even faint after giving blood. If you have either of these conditions, which are not related to your MS, donating blood can take a toll on your health.

The Importance of Disclosing Medications

In addition to disclosing your health information and recent travel when attempting to make a blood donation, it's critical to also mention any medications (including recent infusions). None of the medications used to treat MS are listed as restricted, but other drugs you take might be.

And while taking certain medications alone won't exclude you as a donor, they can introduce certain concerns that may.

For example, Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) and Tysabri (natalizumab), are powerful disease-modifying therapies sometimes used in the treatment of MS. These medications can predispose you to infections, and Tysabri has been associated with a life-threatening infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), which would potentially endanger the recipient and exclude you from being able to donate blood.

A Word From Verywell

Giving blood is one of the most wonderful ways that you can volunteer and help save a life.

  • Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood. 
  • More than 1.69 million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2017. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.
  • A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.

MS alone doesn't disqualify you as a donor, from a guidelines standpoint. But individual blood banks have been known to sometimes deny people with MS nevertheless. This may happen to you if the staff members at the blood bank you visit are not familiar with MS. If you face this problem, you can encourage a staff worker who turns you away to call the national headquarters of the American Red Cross at 1-800-GIVE-LIFE for guidance about your condition.

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