Importance of Donating Platelets

By Joanne Pallotta

BIDMC Correspondent


For many cancer patients, burn victims, and bone marrow recipients, platelets are a life-saving therapy. As a key component of the clotting process, platelets prevent or stop bleeding.  Like blood, there is a constant need for platelet donations.  However, there is one important difference between the two:  the shelf life.  “There are only 5 days after someone gives a (platelet) donation for it to be transfused to a patient,” emphasizes Jecoliah Ellis, External Communications Manager for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts. “Hence, the constant need.”


A platelet donation is also known as “apheresis” or “platelet pheresis.” This is a technique of withdrawing just the single component – the platelet, through a cell-separating machine, and returning the red cells and plasma back to a person’s body.  This allows a large quantity of platelets to be given by a single donor.  According to the Red Cross, your platelet donation may potentially provide up to 3 single doses that can be used for 3 separate patients, or up to 3 doses that can be used for a single patient.  It could potentially take a total of 12-18 blood donations to provide the equivalent of one platelet donation.


Platelet Donation v. Blood Donation:


Like a blood donation, more than a third of the U.S. population is eligible to donate platelets. The qualifications are similar:  you must be 17-years-old, at least 110 lbs., and feeling healthy.  Travel or medical reasons might defer a donation temporarily or, in some cases, permanently.


Preparing to give platelets is the same as donating blood: stay hydrated and eat a light, healthy meal on the day of your donation.  But, you are asked not to take any aspirin or aspirin products two days or 48 hours beforehand.


There are some key differences in donating platelets:


  • Platelets can be given every 7 days and up to 24 times a year.
  • If you are a platelet donor, you can still make regular blood or double red cell donations. The Red Cross says both gifts are vitally important to patients with life threatening diseases.
  • Platelet donations can only be given at Blood Donation Centers.
  • The donation process can take around 2 hours.


Before, During & After:


Don’t forget to bring your donor card, driver’s license, or two other forms of identification along with a list of the medications you are currently taking.


When you arrive, you’ll begin the registration process by reading important information to make sure you are still eligible to donate.


After that, you’ll receive a mini-physical to check your pulse, blood pressure, body temperature and hemoglobin. Then, it is on to the actual donation where the blood is draw from your arm into the cell separator.  Your blood is spun and the platelets are removed.  The remaining blood components are then returned to your body.


Because the platelet donation takes more time, donors might watch a movie, read a book, listen to music, or just simply relax. After the donation, a person can resume normal activities but avoid anything strenuous for the rest of the day.


Best of Both Worlds:


If you are a platelet donor, you can still give blood at another time. Donors are encouraged to give where they’re needed most depending on their blood type.


“Giving blood and platelets is a community responsibility because you never know when someone you care about may need it,” emphasizes Ellis. “I think that people don’t realize the demand until they know someone who needs it to help save their lives.”


Making an appointment to give platelets in Massachusetts is as easy as calling 781-751-4222 or emailing


For additional information, log on to or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. You can also follow the Red Cross on twitter @RedCrossBloodMA for news and information.