Family Life


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Ask Dr. Marla: Is it safe for my teen to donate blood?



My 16-year-old came home from school with a note about a blood donor clinic coming to the school. Is it safe for her to give blood?


This is such an important question. To answer it I turned to Canadian Blood Services. In Canada the minimum age to give blood is 17. There is no upper age limit to give, as long as one remains healthy. In order to be considered a blood donor, in addition to passing the age eligibility criteria, one has to pass a variety of screening steps. These include a detailed questionnaire, an examination of basic vitals such as blood pressure and heart rate, and also have a hemoglobin level greater than 125 g/L. In addition there are also basic height and weight criteria which act as a way to figure out one’s minimal total blood volume. All of these criteria can be found on the Canadian Blood Services website (

The purpose of these really strict criteria is as much to protect the health of the donor as they are to protect recipients. Of course, after a unit is successfully collected, assuming the donor passes all these eligibility criteria, the unit of blood then goes through extensive screening for several possible infectious agents, and then through further processing to make sure that the unit is safe and qualified for transfusion for red cells, plasma or platelets.

In addition, there has to be a signed consent by the donor when they complete the questionnaire. It has been found that younger donors tend to have a higher adverse reaction to the donation process than older donors, especially an increased rate of vaso-vagal incidents – simply put, fainting!

Donors are always advised to drink lots of fluid before donating. There is really no risk to donors from the donation process, and for most people it is no more than a commitment of time and perhaps a slight feeling of discomfort from the needle.

Potential donors can always call the national hotline (1-888-2-DONATE) to get more information to determine if they will be eligible before arriving at a clinic. Donors are encouraged to go online and read the criteria, and if they wish, to book an appointment at or through the mobile app, GiveBlood. While your teen is a year too young, you can be a role model and donate until she’s old enough next year!


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2014.

a man carrying two children

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