Donating Blood With Lupus

Eligibility and Other Opportunities for Giving Back

If you have lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE) and want to donate blood, it's important to know that some organizations and blood banks will accept your donation whereas others will not. And even when lupus doesn't automatically disqualify you, eligibility criteria usually require that the disease be inactive or in remission.

Potential risks to you also need to be considered, and you and your physician should discuss whether donating is a good idea for you.

While it can be disappointing to find out you can't help people by giving blood, keep in mind that you can "give back" in many other ways.

Mobile blood donation unit, France. A team of nurses collect blood.
BSIP/UIG / Getty Images

Blood Donation Eligibility

Whether you can donate blood with lupus depends not only on the status of your condition but on where you choose to donate blood. Blood banks can vary considerably in their requirements and guidelines so that you may be able to donate somewhere even if you are told you are ineligible at one organization. It may take some legwork to find those who will accept our blood.

There are also some reasons why people with lupus may not be able to donate blood regardless of the organization.

Different Organizations, Different Guidelines

Each blood bank and donation service has its own requirements for blood donations.

Accepting Donations

Organizations that accept blood from people with lupus include:

The American Red Cross: Thanks to a policy change, this organization will accept your donation as long as:

  • Your disease is inactive or in remission
  • You're healthy at the time of the donation

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center:

The National Health Service in the U.K.:

  • If you haven't required treatment to suppress the disease in the past 12 months
  • AND the condition has not affected your heart

Not Accepting Donations

Organizations that don't accept blood from people with lupus include:

  • The National Institutes of Health
  • Providence Health
  • Australian Red Cross

The organizations disqualify people with autoimmune disease in general. The Australian Red Cross claims it's concerned not only about the risk to the person receiving the blood, but about the potential for negative impact on the person with lupus.

Guidelines are Subject to Change

Just as the American Red Cross changed its eligibility requirements so that people with inactive lupus may give blood, other organizations may do so as well. Be sure to check the latest guidelines if you're interested in donating.

Restrictions to Donating Blood With Lupus

In addition to general guidelines that limit who can donate blood (such as those with HIV infection and more), some conditions that will disqualify people with lupus from donating blood at any blood bank or organization.

Donating Blood With Lupus

You can't donate blood if you have lupus plus any of the following:

  • Anemia
  • Abnormal liver function tests (liver dysfunction)
  • If the disease is active (not in remission)
  • If you are taking some medications, including methotrexate, CellCept (mycophenolate mofetil), and biological agents (such as Benlysta (belimumab)
  • If you aren't feeling well in any way
  • If you have a fever

The reasons for these restrictions is again two-fold. Doctors don't know how donating blood could affect you nor how exposure to components in your blood may affect the person who receives it, especially if that person is very ill or has a suppressed or compromised immune system.

Plasma Donation and Lupus

Since antibodies found in the blood are the primary cause for concern surrounding blood donations from people with lupus, plasma donation is usually discouraged. Red blood cells and platelets from people with lupus are generally considered "safe."

Bone Marrow Donation and Lupus

Having lupus, even in remission, is usually a contraindication for bone marrow donation. The organization Be the Match excludes people with an autoimmune disease other than stable autoimmune thyroid disease.

Organ Donation and Lupus

People with lupus may or may not be able to donate organs. The only two absolute contraindications are HIV infection and Creutzfeldt-Jacob syndrome. With lupus, problems with blood clots (antiphospholipid syndrome) would be one reason why doctors may think twice. In many cases, the benefits (saving a life) may easily outweigh the potential risks.

Another Way to Help: Lupus Plasma Donation Studies

Even if you can't donate plasma to help someone in need, there is another option for people with lupus. Several organizations ask for plasma donation from people with lupus in order to study the disease. Many of these are paid plasma donation studies, so those who are disappointed that they can't "give back" by donating blood could actually give back in two ways; their donation could further study on lupus, and they could use the monetary aspect to assist people struggling with their health (and life) in other ways.

Before You Donate

Before deciding whether to donate, it's important to consider whether it's right for you. Because you you can help or give back in other ways, you don't need to risk your health to do so.

Possible Risks

Potential risks of donating blood could include worsening of your disease, depending on what factors set off your lupus flares. If you have fatigue associated with your disease, donating blood could make it worse. It may also exacerbate lupus-related heart issues.

Possible Benefits

Against the risks to weigh are possible benefits.

Due to inflammation in blood vessel walls or through triggering blood clots, lupus may increase the risk of strokes over the long run. Studies have found that people who regularly donate blood have a lower risk of stroke and heart disease.

While you hear more about anemia (low iron levels), iron overload can also be a problem. In fact, "bloodletting" or regular removal of blood such as with blood donation (therapeutic phlebotomy) is a treatment for those with hemochromatosis.

Making a Decision

If you meet the criteria to donate, talk to your doctor first. Even if you are in remission and your disease is inactive, they may have some specific reasons why you should not donate. If you're disappointed, they will probably have some idea where you can use your desire to help others in a different way.

Before working on behalf of others, however, make sure you are living and coping with your lupus as well as possible. People who take care of themselves first are better able to help others.

A Word From Verywell

If you are able to donate, it is a noble endeavor, as one blood donation can help save up to three lives. According to the Red Cross, every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood and only 5% of the eligible population donates in a given year. There's no blood substitute and donors are the only sources of blood. Donated blood is used not only in emergencies but also for people who have cancer, blood disorders such as anemia, and many other illnesses.

Even so, many organizations do not allow people with lupus to donate, and if they do, the guidelines can significantly limit who may give blood. Unlimited ways of helping others exist, however, including becoming an advocate.

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