Haemoglobin and your blood donation

Haemoglobin and iron
Every time you come to give blood or platelets a Blood Bank Officer checks your haemoglobin level. THIS IS MANDATORY along with filling your Medical Questionnaire before Blood Bank checks for your HB.


What is Haemoglobin?

Hemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs.
Haemoglobin levels vary from person to person. Men usually have higher levels than women.

A low hemoglobin count is generally defined as less than 12.5 grams of hemoglobin per deciliter (125 grams per liter) of blood. For both men and women, this is the current measurement. Previously, it was 13.5 g/dL. (deciliter)


Copyright: A. Purmanund Blood Bank Officer doing a Haemoglobin test

We set a fairly high ‘cut-off’ level because we want to be sure that your haemoglobin will not drop below normal after you have donated.

If you donate platelets you lose a certain number of red cells each time, and after a number of donations your iron stores and Hb can drop. To ensure your safety we need your Hb to be at least 125g/l for both men and women.

What is a normal haemoglobin level?

Each testing laboratory provides a reference range. This is generally considered to be the normal range for healthy adults.

Blood Service haemoglobin reference range
Females                                                        Males
125-165 g/L                                              125-185 g/L

Why is my haemoglobin measured before each donation?
The health of our blood donors and recipients is a priority. The haemoglobin screening test is performed to ensure that it is safe for you to donate and that there are sufficient red cells for the person receiving your blood.

Why haemoglobin levels might be too low to donate
There are a few reasons:

Variation between people – some of us just normally have a  low level.
• Iron – we all need iron to make haemoglobin. If your iron stores are low, the haemoglobin may fall below normal (or below the donation level).
• Testing procedure – while we take great care with our test on the session, occasionally it underestimates the amount of haemoglobin in the blood. It sounds quite “unquality like” because if we are not sure of our Hb value, we cant bleed the donors. The equipment is benign calibrated every day
• Lack of iron which is required to make new red cells
• A deficiency in vitamin B12 or folate
• Conditions causing blood loss, including blood donation. Its frequent and regular blood donation which can lower iron levels Not “a blood donation”
• Other health problems

At your next donation
You will have been asked to leave at least 3 months (4 months for women) before your next donation to allow your haemoglobin to reach a higher level. We hope that next time you come to give blood your haemoglobin will be above our ‘cut-off’ level and that you will not be disappointed again.

If you are unable to donate on 3 consecutive occasions then on your next visit, please inform our Blood Bank Officer. You may also wish to speak to Dr Mrs Sonoo, Head in Charge, NBTS – Candos by calling on 424 0650. Else, we advise you to go to an Area Health Centre (AHC) or Community Health Centre (CHC) and tell the Doctor that you  were deferred (not able to give blood) due to low HB. The Doctor will do the needful.

More about iron
Iron is very important because it helps your body to make haemoglobin and you give away a lot of iron when you donate blood.

As iron is found in a variety of foods, you can usually get enough from a balanced diet. The major sources of iron are meat and meat-based foods, cereals and vegetables.

Boosting iron levels
You can boost iron levels by trying to eat a well-balanced diet.

Although iron from non-meat sources is more difficult for the body to absorb, people following a well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet should get enough iron in their diet.

Vegetarians and Irons
Vegetarians who eat a varied and well balanced diet are not at any greater risk of iron deficiency anaemia than non-vegetarians. A diet rich in wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, iron-fortified cereals and green leafy vegetables provides an adequate iron intake.

21 Vegetarian Foods That Are Loaded With Iron

Are Vegetarians getting enough irons?

Every day, try to eat three portions of food below that are good sources of iron:

Non-Veg sources of iron

  • lean red meat, turkey and chicken
  • fish – including mackerel, sardines, salmon, pilchards and shellfish eggs

Vegetarian Sources

  • breakfast cereals – some cereals are fortified with iron
  • pulses and beans – in particular baked beans, chickpeas and lentils
    nuts (including peanut butter)
  • brown rice
  • tofu
  • bread – especially wholemeal or brown breads
  • leafy green vegetables – especially curly kale, watercress, broccoli and spinach
    dried fruit – in particular apricots, raisins and prunes

Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps you to absorb more iron. So to get the most from the food you eat, have vitamin C rich foods with meals: for example fresh fruits and vegetables, or drinks such as fresh orange juice.

♦ Avoid drinking tea or coffee just before, after or with meals as this may reduce the absorption of iron from foods.

Are there foods that reduce iron absorption? ¹
Substances which reduce iron absorption if consumed with or within an hour following a meal, include:
• calcium found in dairy and soy products
• polyphenols found in tea, coffee, cocoa and red wine (inhibit absorption of non-haem iron only)
• oxalic acid found in spinach, rhubarb and sweet potato
• phytates found in cereals and legumes

Further Reading : Encouraging Women and young girls to donate blood regularly

1. Australian Red Cross – Iron and Haemoglobin
2. Medicine.net
3. http://www.blood.co.uk (Haemoglobin and Iron)