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Ask the Doc

November 2011 • Published in The Daily Press, Ashland WI

Q: Some years ago I was told that I was ineligible to donate blood because I was using a cortico steroid to control my asthma. But I have since learned that may no longer be true. Have the guidelines changed?

A: Good question and, yes, the guidelines have changed as the field of transfusion medicine as evolved. The good news is that the use of an inhaled steroid (like the brand Advair, for example) no longer is reason enough to defer you from donating. As long as your asthma is under control and you are asymptomatic (e.g., no shortness of breadth, no severe coughing or wheezing), we encourage you to consider making an appointment to donate again. You will need to meet general eligibility requirements (e.g., age, weight, health status). And a Collection Specialist will conduct a mini-physical—checking your pulse, blood pressure, blood count, etc. — at the time of your appointment that will also help determine your eligibility to donate. There also are specific restrictions that may apply regarding travel and a very select number of other medications so you may want to check your eligibility before donating by calling 1-888-GIVE-BLD or viewing our general eligibility guidelines.

At Memorial Blood Centers, donor and recipient safety is our highest priority. And in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in cooperation with the AABB (the blood banking industry association) establishes standards of practice for all blood centers. These standards form the basis of the Blood Donor History Questionnaire materials we use to screen prospective donors—a process that helps ensure the safety of the donation process as well as the product being donated. As part of a regular review process, the AABB and FDA routinely evaluate existing guidelines and recommend appropriate updates.

As you can imagine, since MBC began operations in 1948 there have been remarkable advances in our knowledge and treatment of any number of conditions and diseases that have influenced donor eligibility. At one time potential donors with a history of cancer, heart attack, bone or skin grafts, would have been deferred from giving blood.

There also have been new discoveries—like “Mad Cow Disease”, HIV and AIDS—that can affect the safety of donated blood. Add to that the explosion of new drugs—from blood thinners like Dabigatran and Plavix to all types of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that can affect a donor’s platelet function. What we learn from new research and practice in this field influences the guidelines we use to ensure the safety of blood donation for donors and recipients alike.

During the holiday season, it is typically a challenging time for keeping the shelves stocked with blood. So please make a date to donate with Memorial Blood Centers today. Making an appointment online is easy and convenient. Visit MBC.org and click the Schedule Now button. You can search by zip code for a community blood drive near you or make an appointment at one of our Northland donor centers, including at Essentia Health in Superior or Burning Tree Plaza in Duluth.

We hope to see your blood drive listed here in Ask the Doc soon!

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Jed Gorlin, M.D. is Medical Director and Vice President, Medical and Quality Affairs for Memorial Blood Centers. Elizabeth Perry, M.D. is Associate Medical Director for Memorial Blood Centers.

Send us your questions at askthedoc@MBC.org. Call us today 1-888-GIVE-BLD (888-448-3253) to schedule an appointment, or to find out more about Memorial Blood Centers and how we partner with the Ashland community to save lives.