Donating Plasma – Are You Selling Yourself Short?


plasma donation

Written by Caitlin Schille

The plasma donation business has ballooned into an enormous industry, and the demand allows plasma donors to be paid for their donation. People looking to make a quick buck can spend an hour or two donating their plasma for payouts of $40 or more per visit. Some question whether this is an acceptable medical practice or one that should be regulated more tightly.

What is plasma, and why are companies willing to pay you for it?

Plasma is the fluid component of blood, and it is very important. Plasma is critical to forming blood clots to prevent excessive bleeding, and it is vital in fighting diseases. When donating plasma, a sample of blood will be taken, and then the plasma is separated from the other blood cells. The other blood cells are then returned to your body. The donated plasma is used for patients who suffer from bleeding disorders, immune deficiency disorders, and other injuries and conditions.

Plasma from US donors makes up about 70 percent of worldwide collections.
Source: theatlantic.com

There is no doubt that plasma is critical for human life and that plasma donation is important. So what is the cost to the donor?

Some scathing anecdotal evidence lambasts plasma donation, portraying the experience as practically being akin to receiving services at an underground abortion clinic. Tales of untrained and uncertified staff, accusations of lying about medical history, lack of risk information, and other horror stories can easily scare readers away from plasma donation.

However, relying on anecdotal evidence instead of aggregated data is like listening to Jenny McCarthy’s rants on vaccines and autism instead of actual science and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It is safe to occasionally donate plasma. Dr. Tamera Straub, a pediatrician with decades of experience, asserts that it is safe to make a plasma donation, “as long as the place is reputable and licensed by the state.” A potential donor must pass a health screening and survey of his or her medical history. Vital signs are monitored throughout the visit to ensure the safety of the donor. Equipment is sterilized and safe to use. Measures are taken to ensure donor safety, such as allowing donors to give plasma no more than once or twice per week. The risks of a donation visit are relatively mild—bruising, nausea, and dizziness are some of the occasional side effects.

Potential Problems With Paying Plasma Donors

  • Impoverished individuals may lie to pass screening tests.
  • Current regulations allowing people in the US to donate twice a week is more than any other place in the world, but people do it for the money.
  • Impoverished individuals may continue to donate plasma for a long period of time, which can be harmful.

While it is quite safe to occasionally donate plasma, there are some risks associated with regularly donating plasma over a long period of time. A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that long-term plasma donation is heavily associated with lower levels of immunoglobulins, suppressor T cells, and natural killer cells. These cells are all critical components of the immune system. The NIH study found these results to be significant enough that further study was warranted into the long-term effects of plasma donation. Long-term donors sometimes complain of pain, rubbery legs, and tingling sensations.

As such, the current conclusion on the safety of plasma donation is that occasional, sporadic plasma donation is safe, as is plasma donation in and of itself. However, regular, long-term plasma donation poses enough of a hazard that it ought to be avoided.

Sources: redcrossblood.org, donatingplasma.org, theatlantic.com

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13 Comments

  1. Kirsten Reinford
    October 27, 2016
    Reply

    This information would be more helpful if “long term” was defined. Is long term 6 months? 6 years? Presumably donating once a week is better than donating twice a week, but at what point does it cross over from safe to hazardous?

  2. Brad
    November 19, 2016
    Reply

    I’ve been donating plasma for 4 years regularly, I have felt the affects of tiredness and a bunch of other symptoms of fatigue related . After one year of donating regularly, my body adjusted to that feeling and I was fine . 4 years later Im not sure if it’s plasma related but it seems after I donate, I feel as though I am more depressed and less capable of dealing with stress . I’m not sure if this is long term related or not but I’ve noticed it gets worse after donating plasma

  3. Maribel
    November 26, 2016
    Reply

    It would be helpful if “long term” is defined.

  4. Jane Doe
    December 7, 2016
    Reply

    I’ve only donated twice and my donation side arm (from entry downward to my hand) & leg has the tingling & numbness… After only 2x… You should include that into your article, because advise this is a potential effect after a extended donation time, can be misleading.

    I’m done donating After 2x too many… Love my body too much for all of what I feel already…

  5. S lee
    April 11, 2017
    Reply

    I have donated 4 times my daughter has been donated for about 4 months & so far so good for us. & we donate twice a week.

  6. Jane
    April 17, 2017
    Reply

    Plasma is vital to human life however paid plasma donations are never used in another human – that is illegal. If you are paid for plasma it is used in testing drugs but only voluntary unpaid donations of whole blood, platelets and plasma is transfused into another person.

  7. April 18, 2017
    Reply

    I’ve donated plasma for 2 + months now steady twice a week and I can tell you i just caugfht shingles..now i do not know if i ahve other viruses such as hiv and aids or cancer…but reading this im leaning towards giving plasma as being why my shingles popped out being i am only 40 .. you can keep updated at http://jasonraffa.com

  8. TennGal58
    May 21, 2017
    Reply

    One does not “catch” shingles.

    From Wikipedia: “Shingles is due to a reactivation of varicella zoster virus (VZV) within a person’s body. Chickenpox is due to an initial infection with VZV. Once chickenpox has resolved, the virus may remain inactive in nerve cells. When it reactivates it travels from the nerve body to the endings in the skin producing blisters. Risk factors for reactivation include old age, poor immune function, and having had chickenpox before 18 months of age. How the virus remains in the body or subsequently re-activates is not well understood. Exposure to the virus in the blisters can cause chickenpox in someone who has not had it before but will not trigger shingles.”

    According to the above article: “A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that long-term plasma donation is heavily associated with lower levels of immunoglobulins, suppressor T cells, and natural killer cells. These cells are all critical components of the immune system.”

    So, since poor immune function is a risk factor for both plasma donation and reactivation of the shingles virus (VZV), it’s reasonable to surmise that this is what happened in your case, regardless of your age.

    Donating plasma has absolutely nothing to do with whether you have HIV, AIDS, or cancer.

  9. cassie sal
    May 29, 2017
    Reply

    I’ve been donate off and on I was doing it for 4 months then stop for 6 months and know I’m bk doing It again for the last ,5 months and I just want to know the long term effects. My dad dnt like me doing this and is woried for my health I feel fine other then the fact that the last time I donated is I got poked twice on in each arm and know I one of my arm is all black and brown BC she moved the needle around to much and put it in too far and how the %$#@ I barley moved my are with out it hurting and know I’m like wanna quit again

  10. Tyler
    June 5, 2017
    Reply

    I have been donating twice a week for 6 months and if anything I feel healthier! This is most likely due to the necessity and motivation of paying closer attention to eating right, exercising regularly and staying well-hydrated, all of which help me avoid being “deferred” and make for a quicker donation. Have not had so much as a cold in that period. Only downside is the puncture marks- one on each arm, but not a big deal.

  11. Tracy
    September 7, 2017
    Reply

    I’m amazed that you can donate twice a week in the US. I am in Australia, we can only donate once every fortnight (2 weeks) and I personally prefer every 3 weeks. To give my body a chance to recover and I also find that the needle holes take longer to heal ( not sure if that is because of aging or just frequency of being jabbed)
    Nobody has looked into the long term effects of regular donations, you do loose some water and also calcium. We have very strict regulations monitoring the health of doners here and it is a volunteer system.

    • Blah
      September 19, 2017
      Reply

      Its good that we can donate twice a week here in US. It helps out poor people like me. The needle hole heals in 3 days for me. I dont care about my health, I have depression and dont work so its extra money to eat and stuff. Ive been donating twice a week for 8 months.

  12. Ginger
    November 1, 2017
    Reply

    I donate plasma at Ked Plasma. They only take people with RH negative blood and use it to create Rhogam, which is given to mothers when they give birth. I’ve donated once, sometimes twice/week for a few months now and I’m the thinnest I’ve been in 25 years (steadily losing weight since the start of donating). Also, I feel like I got run over by a train sometimes an entire day after donating. The exhaustion is terrible. There are definite side effects they don’t tell you about. The money is good but the effects on my health are making it so I am second guessing the twice/week donating. At age 45 this is becoming too hard on my body.

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