The Risks and Side Effects of Donating Bone Marrow

Donating bone marrow can have side effects and risks, but in general, it is considered a very safe process. Still, the question about whether to expect pain and what the procedure entails is an important one to ask.

This article looks at the risks and side effects of bone marrow donation. It also covers what you can expect when you've chosen to donate your bone marrow and stem cells to someone who is coping with cancer or another related condition.

Model of the pelvis
Miikam / iStockPhoto

Risks of Donating Bone Marrow

Risks related to donating bone marrow are mostly related to the risk of the surgical procedure. Bone marrow is "harvested" through a needle, which is inserted into your hip. This is usually done under a general anesthetic in the operating room using a sterile technique.

Any time you have general anesthesia, there are risks such as:

  • You may have an allergic reaction to the anesthetic
  • It is possible you may wake up during the procedure, though steps are always taken to prevent this
  • There is also a rare risk of death

Other potential risks of a bone marrow donation include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Injury to nerves and blood vessels near the site of the marrow withdrawal
  • Damage to the bone

If instead of donating bone marrow you plan to donate peripheral blood stem cells (a donation done through a blood draw rather than a bone marrow biopsy procedure), check out these possible risks of donating stem cells for transplant.

Mild Side Effects

After the procedure, you may feel some mild side effects from the anesthesia, including:

You may also be sore in the region of your hip for a week or slightly more. Among those who donated bone marrow as part of the National Marrow Donor Program, the majority of people experienced some back and hip pain for a few days, as well as fatigue.

Severe Side Effects/Risks

According to the National Marrow Donor Program, 2.4% of people who donate bone marrow experience a serious complication. Very few bone marrow donors suffer any long-term complications from their donation.

Of the 12,000 stem cell donations that take place each year, few adverse events are reported. For example, in 2014 there were only nine reports of adverse events after bone marrow donation.

Recovering From Bone Marrow Donation

During the procedure, approximately 1 quart of bone marrow is withdrawn. This represents less than 5% of your bone marrow. The number of cells in your bone marrow is usually completely back to normal levels within 4 to 6 weeks, though your body can function perfectly fine in the meantime.

The procedure may be done as an outpatient, or you may spend a few days in the hospital. Some medical centers recommend taking 7 to 10 days off of work following the procedure, but some people feel up to returning to work much sooner. On average, people feel completely back to "normal" in 20 days.

Can You Meet the Recipient?

If you are donating for an anonymous recipient, you may be wondering if you will have the chance to meet the person whose life you may have saved. Most agencies have fairly strict regulations about patient-donor contact, but you may wish to contact your agency to ask about their policies.


Like all surgical procedures, there are some risks to donating bone marrow. It's possible to experience a reaction to the anesthetic, for example, and there is also a risk of bleeding and infection.

Other side effects you might experience include soreness at the site of the procedure and fatigue.

A Word From Verywell

When considering any issue, it's important to weigh the risks against the benefits. The risks of bone marrow donation are small, but the benefits to those who may receive your donation can be priceless. That said, donating bone marrow is not for everyone, and it's important that you honor yourself in whatever choice you make. Only you can make the decision that is right for you.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Marrow Donor Program. Donation FAQs.

  2. Szer J, Elmoazzen H, Fechter M, et al. Safety of living donation of hematopoietic stem cells. Transplantation. 2016;100(6):1329-31. doi:10.1097/TP.0000000000001223

  3. National Marrow Donor Program. Myths and facts about bone marrow donation 


Additional Reading

By Indranil Mallick, MD
 Indranil Mallick, MD, DNB, is a radiation oncologist with a special interest in lymphoma.