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Can You Donate Plasma if You Have Lupus?

Medically reviewed by Maria Lolou, M.D., M.S.
Written by Emily Brown
Posted on June 29, 2023

Even though it’s clear that lupus isn’t contagious, some people may wonder if having lupus prevents them from being able to donate plasma or blood. “Can people with lupus donate blood?” one MyLupusTeam member asked. Another responded, “I don’t think so, but it’s hard to confirm.”

Donating whole blood or blood components like plasma is a noble act. Can people with lupus participate in blood drives to help others?

There doesn’t appear to be a hard and fast rule against people with lupus donating blood or plasma — the fluid that makes up most of the blood and carries blood’s nutrients, proteins, and hormones to the rest of the body. It may depend on the blood donation organization you visit and your general health at the time of donating. Symptoms from lupus-related conditions, such as fever or a cough from vasculitis, might also keep you from being able to donate.

Learn more about blood or plasma donation with lupus, including lupus-specific considerations and when to contact your doctor or local blood donation organization.

Blood and Plasma Donation With Lupus

The American Red Cross doesn’t have information specifically about donating blood with lupus. The organization notes that most chronic illnesses don’t automatically disqualify you from donating blood so long as the condition is controlled, you feel well, and you meet all other eligibility requirements.

Similarly, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, having systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or discoid lupus does not disqualify you from donating blood, so long as you don’t have symptoms and aren’t taking certain medications.

As for plasma, it’s unclear whether and which chronic illnesses may disqualify you from donating. Some plasma donation organizations may accept plasma from people with autoimmune conditions, but it depends on how severe your disease is and which treatments you take. A donation center may need to see approval from your doctor confirming your treatment plan and their support of you donating blood or plasma.

MyLupusTeam Members Discuss Blood Donation

Many MyLupusTeam members suggest that they aren’t able to donate blood, while others have donated blood and continue to do so or stopped because of how it made them feel. For example, one member wrote, “I was a blood donor, and they stopped me from donating the minute I was diagnosed.”

Another member shared, “I donated blood two years after my lupus diagnosis. I informed the blood center employee. She contacted her supervisor. The supervisor approved the blood collection. After the collection, I felt terrible. I vomited and cried while on the table.”

It’s best to check with your doctor and your local blood donation organization to see if you’d be eligible to donate blood or plasma given your lupus diagnosis, and what to expect from donation if you are eligible. Let your doctor know if you have any bad reactions after donating.

Considerations for Donating Blood With Lupus

While there may not be a specific rule against people with lupus donating blood, there are some eligibility criteria that may be more pertinent to people with lupus, including certain medications, anemia, and high blood pressure.

Medications

Certain medications have a waiting period associated with them before you’re eligible to donate blood. For example, the American Red Cross notes that people taking mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept), an immunosuppressant, must wait six weeks from the last dose before being eligible to donate blood.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before stopping any medications you take as part of your lupus treatment plan. Not taking lupus medications may put you at risk of lupus flares. It may also disrupt your eligibility to donate blood if lupus symptoms do occur, as some blood donation centers require you to be asymptomatic.

Anemia

People with lupus are more likely to have anemia (low red blood cell count), which can be a barrier to donating blood. Blood donation centers will usually check your hemoglobin, the part of the red blood cell that contains iron and carries oxygen to your body, to determine your eligibility for blood donation. It’s important to have enough iron in your body to replace the lost blood cells through donation. Thus, not having enough iron due to anemia may disqualify you from donating blood.

One MyLupusTeam member wrote, “I was told I could not donate blood or plasma. This is due to what the doctor told me, in fear that I would become anemic.”

However, another member noted that they’ve been able to successfully donate blood, given sufficient iron levels: “I have lupus and donate blood every 50-plus days. I’ve been doing it for years, as long as my iron is good.”

Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns about anemia from lupus, and find out whether they would recommend blood donation in your specific case.

High Blood Pressure

Another eligibility requirement that may impact people with lupus is blood pressure. About 50 percent of people with lupus have high blood pressure. Depending on the blood pressure number, this may disqualify you from donating blood. The American Red Cross states that you can donate blood with a blood pressure of 180/100 mm Hg or below at the time of donation. Taking blood pressure medications doesn't disqualify you from donating.

Plasma Donation for Research

If you find that you’re ineligible to donate plasma to blood banks, you may be eligible to donate plasma to help advance research on autoimmune diseases like lupus. One MyLupusTeam member noted, “You can donate plasma if it’s for medical research. There are only special U.S. Food and Drug Administration-licensed centers that are approved to do so, and they pay patients to participate so you can make money doing it.”

When in doubt, check with a plasma donation center to see if you qualify for plasma donation for blood banks or research.

Ask Your Doctor About Blood and Plasma Donation

Donating blood is a giving act, but at the same time, it’s important to think about your health too. If you’re interested in donating blood or plasma, talk with your doctor first to see if they have any concerns given your personal health history and lupus disease activity.

In addition, check with your local blood donation organization or the American Red Cross to see if you’re eligible to donate with lupus, and if so, what the criteria are.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLupusTeam is the social network for people with lupus and their loved ones. On MyLupusTeam, more than 223,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lupus.

Have you donated blood or plasma? Were there any eligibility requirements that kept you from donating? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on June 29, 2023
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    Maria Lolou, M.D., M.S. graduated from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, where she completed her medical school training. Learn more about her here.
    Emily Brown is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in health communication and public health. Learn more about her here.

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