Automated blood collection, or apheresis (ay-fur-ee-sis), is a donation made with the assistance of a special machine. Instead of flowing directly into a bag, your blood enters the machine where a small centrifuge "spins" the blood to separate its basic components. The machine is programmed to remove specific amounts of these components, and then return everything else to you through the same sterile tubing and needle.
Why is Blood Separated?
Different patients need different blood components,
depending on their illness or injury. We separate each blood
donation into its basic components of red cells, platelets and
plasma. Whole blood donations are separated in our laboratory.
Apheresis donations are separated automatically during the donation
Whole Blood Donation
A non-automated "whole blood" donation is the most common type
of donation and results mainly in the collection of red blood
cells. Red blood cells are the most frequently used blood component
and are needed by almost every type of patient requiring
transfusion. Red cells make up about 40 percent of your blood.
Their most important job is carrying oxygen from the lungs to
tissues, and carrying back carbon dioxide to the lungs.
If you meet certain criteria, you can make a "double red"
donation during one appointment using the automated donation
process. It allows you to donate two units - twice the number of
red blood cells - compared to a single unit from a non-automated
donation. It is as safe as whole blood donation.
Can I Donate Double Reds?
In addition to the qualifications for a whole blood
donation, you must also meet specific criteria for donating double
red cells, especially for hemoglobin, weight and height.
Double red cell donation takes about 20-30 minutes
longer than a whole blood donation. After a whole blood you are
generally eligible to donate again in two months. After a double
red donation you must wait four months.
You may feel better after a double red
donation. That's because other
components, including the liquid portion of your blood, are
returned to you. As a result, you may feel more hydrated after your
Platelets are blood cells that help control bleeding. They are
one of the main components separated from a blood donation by
- When a blood vessel is damaged platelets collect at the site of
the injury and temporarily repair the tear.
- Platelets are sticky cells that clump together to form clots
that control bleeding by sticking to the lining of
- Platelets then activate substances in plasma which form a clot
and allow the wound to heal.
- When exposed to air, cause a protein in the blood, called
fibrinogen, to turn into long threads which form a scab over the
- Platelets survive in the circulatory system for about 10 days
and are removed by the spleen.
- Outside the body, platelets can be stored for only 5 days.
Who Needs Platelets?
Many lifesaving medical treatments require platelet
- They are in high demand for patients with leukemia and other
forms of cancer and blood disorders.
- They help patients with malignant diseases who have low or
abnormal platelets due to the disease itself or chemotherapy.
- They are vital for patients receiving bone marrow or organ
transplants and open heart surgery.
- Necessary for treatment of accident, burn and trauma
Because platelets can be stored for only five days the need for
platelet donations is vast and continuous.
Platelet transfusions are needed each year by thousands of
patients like these:
- Heart Surgery Patient: 6 units.
- Burn Patient: 20 units.
- Organ Transplant Patient: 30 units.
- Bone Marrow Transplant Patient: 120 units.
What is Plasma?
Plasma is the fluid component of the blood that carries other
blood cells, nutrients, and clotting factors throughout our
- Plasma is 90 percent water and makes up more than half of total
- The remaining 10 percent of plasma is made up of protein
molecules, including enzymes, clotting agents, immune system
components, plus other body essentials such as vitamins and
- Plasma helps maintain blood pressure and keeps everything
moving through the circulatory system, supplying critical proteins
and serving as an exchange system for vital minerals.
- Plasma is frozen after collection and can be stored up to one
Who Needs Plasma?
- Automated plasma donations provide life-saving transfusions to
patients suffering from burns, traumas and bleeding disorders.
- Plasma is used to treat bleeding disorders when clotting
factors are missing. Plasma exchanges remove disease-causing
factors from a patient's plasma.
- Plasma is also used to extract cryoprecipitate, a substance
rich in Factor VIII, which is needed to treat hemophilia
- Plasma purchased at for-profit centers is sold for research and
some medical therapies.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Can be an Automated Donor?
If you meet the requirements for donating blood, you probably
can give platelets. Apheresis donors must:
- Be at least 17 years old (16 years old with parental
- Be in good health.
- Weigh at least 110 pounds.
- Not have taken aspirin or products containing aspirin 48 hours
prior to a platelet donation.
Are Automated Donations Safe?
Yes. Each donation is closely supervised throughout the
procedure by trained staff. A small percentage of your platelets or
plasma is collected, so there is no risk of bleeding problems. Your
body will replace the donated platelets within 24 hours and donated
plasma within two to three days. The donation equipment (including
the needle, tubing and collection bags) is sterile and discarded
after every donation, making it virtually impossible to contract a
disease from the process.
How Does the Procedure Work?
Blood is drawn from your arm through sterile tubing into a
centrifuge. The centrifuge spins the blood to separate the
components, which vary in weight and density. A port is opened
along the spinning tubing at the level containing either the
platelets or plasma to be donated. These platelets or plasma are
drawn up into a collection bag, while the remaining blood
components (red cells and plasma or platelets) are returned to
How Long Does it Take?
Depending on your weight and height, the entire automated
donation process will take approximately 70-90 minutes. You may
read, watch videos, listen to music or simply sit back and relax
while helping to save a life.
How Can I Become an Automated Donor?
Call Community Blood Center at 1-800-388-GIVE and ask
for the Automated Collection Department.