At many blood donor services, you can choose to donate whole blood or just specific blood components. All donations are greatly needed and appreciated.

Whole blood
The main components that make up blood are red cells, platelets, plasma, and white cells. When most people give blood, they give a pint of “whole blood” which means a donation containing all four blood components. Each donation of whole blood is taken to the testing lab where the white cells are filtered out. The unit is then separated into the remaining components: platelets, plasma, and red blood cells.

If you donate through Inova Blood Donor Services or the American Red Cross, every donation is thoroughly tested, properly labeled, and carefully delivered to local hospitals.

Whole blood donors are eligible to give blood every 56 days.

ABC (automated blood collection) donation
Making an automated or “apheresis” donation means that you provide a particular blood component or set of components such as red blood cells, plasma and/or platelets. This technology enables us to collect specific components and return the uncollected components safely back to the donor via the automated process.

During the automated blood collection process, blood flows through single-use sterile tubing into a centrifuge chamber that “spins” your blood and separates the whole blood into various components. Each component is collected into a waiting bag. Component procedures take a little longer, but they are safe for you and highly efficient for patients. Each blood component is unique and important:

One platelet donation yields as many platelets as normally present in six whole blood donations. Platelets are given to help stop bleeding in patients recovering from cancer, leukemia, open-heart surgery, and transplant surgery. A platelet donation typically takes 90 minutes. You can donate platelets every 14 days.

One plasma donation yields as much plasma as three whole blood donations. Plasma carries clotting factors and nutrients. It is often given to trauma patients, organ transplant recipients, newborns, and patients with clotting disorders.

Red blood cells
One red cell donation yields as many red blood cells as two whole blood donations. Red blood cells carry oxygen and are often given to surgery and trauma patients and those with blood disorders such as anemia and sickle cell anemia. A red blood cell donation typically takes one to two hours. You can donate red cells every 56 days. You may also be eligible to donate double red cells. In this case, you are eligible t o donate every 112 days.

All blood types are needed for components. Component donations are safe for donors and make transfusions even more efficient and safe for patients.

Autologous blood donations
In rare instances, such as when someone has a unique set of markers or antigens in their blood or are about to undergo a highly complex surgical procedure, a physician may recommend that an individual have his or her blood drawn and reserved for the upcoming surgery.

In these cases, most blood donor services can draw and transfer blood to the hospital performing the surgery. If you are interested i autologous blood donation, please talk with your physician.

Blood that is drawn autologously and is not used during surgery is immediately and properly disposed of. The nature of autologous donations does not require that the donated unit(s) go through the same rigorous testing as blood donated for use by the general patient population.

To learn more, contact the American Red Cross ( or Inova Blood Donor Services (