Busting common plasma donation myths

02/21/2024

With the ever-increasing need for plasma in the world today, you’re more likely to come across appeals to donate. It may be the first time you’ve considered becoming a donor, and embarking on something new often carries an element of fear. There are so many misconceptions out there that can make it difficult to commit.

Misconception #1: Donating plasma is bad for you.

Many people misunderstand the difference between blood and plasma donation. Assuming that they are the same, in terms of the toll it takes on your body, could lead people to believe being able to donate plasma up to two times a week is bad for your health. 

Before you donate plasma, a health screening is conducted meant to prevent anyone from donating whose health could be compromised by doing do, such as having low total protein or low iron. After you donate plasma, it takes about 48 hours for your body to replenish the fluid and proteins given. During that time, the antibodies and other proteins in your blood are at lower levels than normal. In contrast, it can take 4-8 weeks for the body to replace red blood cells, which need to be replenished after whole blood donation. Compared to whole blood donation, plasma donation is a very minimal change in blood chemistry that most donors don’t notice. 

Some donors do report cough, cold, occasional fatigue, and sore throat symptoms after donating plasma. These findings were part of a recent study sponsored by Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association (PPTA) to explore donor health and safety. However, this study did not find any long-term health issues associated with frequent plasma donation and was consistent with a similar study out of Germany and Switzerland from 2006. 

In contrast, studies have shown a number of positive health outcomes associated with donating plasma: 

Endorphins are released in your body during plasma donation. Increased endorphins can improve mood and lower stress and anxiety.

Misconception #2: People who donate plasma are only motivated by compensation.

There is also a stereotype that a plasma donor is simply a down-on-their-luck individual looking to make an extra buck, but this perception could not be further from the truth. We have interviewed folks who donate because of a friend or a family member who uses plasma-based medicines. Others have no direct connection but feel an intrinsic reward through their altruism. Others simply find it relaxing to disconnect from the stresses of the week. Some people even choose to donate their compensation to charity. Caregivers and parents are some of the greatest advocates for growing awareness of the need for plasma and connecting donors to the people that they help. Read even more stories of people who donate plasma as a way to give back to people in need: Plasma Hero Spotlight articles.

Misconception #3: Paying people to donate plasma is bad.

Manufacturing of plasma-based therapies is a for-profit industry, and paying people for the time it takes to contribute 'raw material' is in line with other types of for-profit industries. What is unique is that the raw material is inside of a person's body, and the industry is entirely dependent on the generosity and goodwill of people who are willing to donate. Offering compensation to donors better ensures a steady supply of plasma to create the lifesaving products that these companies manufacture. 

Some people feel concerned ethically by this system, despite the millions of people that rely on the products manufactured to stay alive. However, the system is clearly successful, as the United States produces 70% of the entire world's supply of plasma due in part to this model of donor compensation. 

Some people feel concerned ethically by this system, despite the potential millions of people that rely on the products manufactured to stay alive. However, the system is clearly successful, as the United States produces 70% of the entire world's supply of plasma due in part to this model of donor compensation. It is worthwhile to mention that many donors would find the plasma donation process too arduous to do consistently for free. Unlike donating blood, which takes 10-15 minutes, donating plasma is a time commitment of 90-120 minutes. The longer process includes a health screening pre-donation and a rest period post-donation. For this reason, donors are compensated for their time, not the plasma itself. It takes longer to recover from whole blood donation as well, so an individual is limited to 6 donations per year, meaning they will spend the amount of time donating in one year that a plasma donor gives in one donation. This monetary incentive also does not compromise the integrity of the plasma, as plasma collection and manufacturing processes are regulated internationally.

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