Donating blood is a valuable gift that can save lives. In fact, millions of people in the United States need blood transfusions each year. If you're a smoker, you might worry about whether you can smoke before or after donating blood. Major blood banks like the American Red Cross don't have restrictions on smoking prior to giving blood, but they do have some recommendations regarding smoking after donating blood.
The American Red Cross and other major blood-bank institutions generally don't prohibit you from smoking cigarettes before donating blood. But some blood banks advise that you not smoke immediately after giving blood. If you smoke right after donating blood, you'll increase your risk of fainting or becoming dizzy, warns BioLife Plasma Services. Therefore, you should wait at least 30 minutes after donating blood to smoke a cigarette, advises the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center.
Smokers are indeed eligible to donate their blood, but there are a variety of other eligibility guidelines for blood donation that you should learn about. In general, to give blood you must be healthy, at least 17 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. A blood banking center will conduct a simple physical exam and assess your medical history. The American Red Cross typically determines your eligibility based on whether you've traveled outside of the United States to certain countries or continents recently, whether you have or have had certain communicable diseases and whether your lifestyle or health status makes donating blood unsafe. You might not be eligible to donate your blood if you're at risk for passing on a blood-borne infection because you've used illegal intravenous drugs, or because you have been exposed to or currently have HIV infection, hepatitis, Chagas disease or babesiosis, or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Blood banks usually don't have specific recommendations about smoking before donating your blood, but they do have other important advice. You should drink lots of fluids – more so than you normally drink – on the day that you plan to donate your blood, according to the American Red Cross. You should also wear comfortable clothing with a shirt that's either sleeveless or has sleeves that are easy to roll up above your elbows. In the days or weeks beforehand, you can prepare to give blood by eating more iron-rich foods like spinach, fortified or enriched starches, seafood, meats, dried fruits and eggs. Get plenty of sleep and protein in your diet before giving blood as well, and avoid caffeine, alcohol and fatty foods immediately prior to donating your blood, advises BioLife Plasma Services. Remember to bring a valid form of identification like your driver's license and a list of your current medications when you go to donate blood.
In addition to not smoking for at least half an hour after giving blood, you should also eat a high-sugar snack to boost your energy. Most blood bank centers will give you cookies and juice after you make a blood donation. Although you can usually leave the center after about 10 to 15 minutes, you should continue to drink extra fluids throughout the next one or two days after giving blood, MayoClinic.com says. You should also avoid any strenuous activity for at least five hours after donating blood. If you experience persistent or intense dizziness, nausea, muscle spasms or pain in your arm, contact the donation center or your doctor right away, advises the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Keep in mind that smoking after giving blood can increase dizziness, reminds BioLife Plasma Services.