Donating Blood When You Have Arthritis

Your disease doesn't disqualify you, but some circumstances might

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or psoriatic arthritis (PA), you may have been told that you should not donate blood. But having a history of an autoimmune disease does not automatically disqualify you as a donor. While some people with arthritis may be ineligible for blood donation due to an active flare, use of certain medications, and some other factors, for the most part, you should be able to give blood as long as you are feeling well and are otherwise healthy.

Why It Is Safe to Donate

As long as you are in good health aside from having arthritis and do not meet any donor exemptions (see below), donating blood is perfectly safe both for you and those who end up receiving your blood.

In the past, people with arthritis and other autoimmune diseases were banned from donating blood due to concerns that circulating autoantibodies may be transferable from donor to recipient. However, a large population-based study of blood donors confirms this is not a concern.

The study, published in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, used data on 938,942 blood donors in a Danish–Swedish database (SCANDAT2) and found no evidence that rheumatoid arthritis can be transmitted through blood transfusion.

Side effects and risks of blood donation are the same for people with arthritis as other donors. You may feel lightheaded or dizzy after donating, and you may develop a bruise near the site of the blood draw.

A typical donation is equivalent to one pint of blood. Your body replenishes the lost blood fluid within 24 hours of a donation and it takes another four to six weeks for red blood cells to regenerate. This has no effect on your arthritis symptoms or disease management.

When to Delay or Avoid Donating Blood

Blood donations are always in need, and having arthritis should not be something that gets in the way of you inquiring about giving. Know, however, that there are circumstances under which you will either be denied as a blood donor either temporarily or permanently.

Some of these relate to arthritis specifically (e.g., having an active flare of your condition or taking certain arthritis medications). Others are disqualifying factors that may apply to any individual, such as heart disease or a history of drug use.

Active Arthritis Flare-Up

Blood donation is not recommended if you have a temperature above 99.5 degrees F or are otherwise ill. Some people experience a fever during an arthritis flare-up and, therefore, should avoid blood donation until their temperature is back to normal.

The joint pain, swelling, and other symptoms that tend to come with a flare aren't an issue when it comes to giving blood (aside from, perhaps, you feel too uncomfortable to do so), but the medications used to get relief may result in a temporary deferment of your ability to donate.

Use of Certain Medications for Arthritis

Certain medications used in the treatment of RA and PA may make you ineligible to donate blood for a period of time.

Medications you may be taking for symptom and disease management that may disqualify you from giving blood include: 

  • Arava (leflunomide): You should wait two years after taking this immunosuppressive drug before donating blood.
  • Aspirin: The is no waiting period for donating whole blood. However, you must wait two full days before donating platelets by apheresis.
  • Feldene (piroxicam): There is no waiting period for donating whole blood, but you must wait two days before donating platelets by apheresis.
  • Rinvoq (upadacitinib): You should wait one month after taking this biologic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD).
  • Soriatane (acitretin): You should wait three years after taking this vitamin A derivative that treats psoriasis.
  • Tegison (etretinate): If you have ever taken this second-generation retinoid that is used to treat severe psoriasis, you are ineligible to donate blood.

Can I Donate Blood If I Take Methotrexate?

Taking Trexall (methotrexate), an antimetabolite used in the treatment of rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, does not disqualify you from donating blood. The American Red Cross does not list methotrexate on its list of problematic medications.

Anemia

Anemia is a condition where your body does not produce enough red blood cells. People with arthritis and other autoimmune diseases are more prone to anemia of chronic disease and iron-deficient anemia.

Prior to blood donation, a finger-stick blood test will be performed to check your levels of hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that is responsible for carrying oxygen through the bloodstream. Iron helps your body make new red blood cells to replace those lost through blood donations.

If your hemoglobin levels are too low, it may be dangerous for you to donate blood at this time. Minimum hemoglobin levels for safe blood donation are:

  • Female: 12.5 g/dL
  • Male: 13 g/dL

Note that taking certain DMARDs prescribed to treat anemia can also result in your blood donation needing to be delayed.

Other Disqualifying Factors

The requirements for blood donation can vary by individual blood banks.

In most states, donors must be age 17 or older, although 16-year-olds may be able to donate with a signed parental consent form. Donors must also weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health.

The American Red Cross does not allow blood donations from people who meet the following criteria, whether they also have arthritis or not:

  • Infected with HIV or are at risk of getting HIV (e.g., have had sexual contact with an HIV-positive person or have multiple sex partners)
  • A previous or current history of drug abuse (either oral or intravenous)
  • Serious chronic illness, such as diseases of the heart or lung, although those with well-controlled asthma can still donate blood
  • History of hepatitis B or C
  • A previous or current history of cancer (depending on the type of cancer and success of treatment)

In April 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reversed a previous permanent ban on blood donation from men who have sex with men (MSM). The new guidelines recommend a three-month deferment from the last sexual contact. 

A Word From Verywell

Blood donation is important for public health and helps to ensure the blood supply is readily available for people who need blood due to injury, illness, or surgery. Despite current guidelines suggesting it is safe for people with psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis to donate blood, some blood banks still have a policy against accepting donations from people with any autoimmune disease.

It is always a good idea to call ahead to confirm your eligibility. If you are unable to donate for any reason but still wish to contribute to the cause, consider organizing a blood drive or volunteering at a blood bank.

To find an American Red Cross blood drive near you, visit the organization's website and use their searchable database.

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Article Sources
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  1. Just SA, Rostgaard K, Titlestad K, et al. Transmission of rheumatoid arthritis through blood transfusion: a retrospective cohort study. Ann Rheum Dis. 2018;77(10):1536-1537. doi:10.1136/annrheumdis-2017-212844

  2. American Red Cross. Frequently asked questions.

  3. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Medical conditions affecting donation.

  4. American Red Cross. Frequently asked questions: General health considerations.

  5. Mayo Clinic. Rheumatoid arthritis. Updated March 1, 2019.

  6. American Red Cross. Frequently asked questions: Medications and vaccinations.

  7. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Anemia of inflammation or chronic disease. Updated September 2018.

  8. Mayo Clinic. Blood donation.

  9. American Red Cross. Frequently asked questions about iron and blood donation.

  10. American Red Cross. Eligibility requirements.

  11. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Revised recommendations for reducing the risk of human immunodeficiency virus transmission by blood and blood products. Updated April 2020.