In Brief

About 20 percent of those who donate blood are first-time donors, and most will never donate again, often citing unpleasant symptoms such as dizziness. However, donors can reduce many of those symptoms by taking basic steps like drinking more water, according to research that Ohio University psychologist Christopher France, PhD, presented at APA's 2005 Annual Convention.

If agencies such as the American Red Cross educated donors about these preventative measures, more people might regularly donate, he said.

"About 60 percent of us [are] eligible to give blood, but only five percent of us actually do so," he said. "It's a minority of the population who's providing the blood for emergency situations."

France's research aims to increase that donation rate. In work with the Red Cross and other researchers, France has shown that three techniques can reduce such symptoms as nausea, lightheadedness and perspiration. These reactions are caused by drops in blood pressure due to, among other things, anxiety about donating, the donor's reduced blood volume and sudden standing after lying down. The techniques France's research suggests help mitigate such negative reactions are:

  • Distraction. Donors wear a headset that plays a 3-D movie that blocks out the sights and sounds of the blood draw. The diversion appears to reduce anxiety and pain in "blunters"--people who say they prefer to be unaware of the blood draw. However, it proves ineffective in donors who prefer to monitor the phlebotomist's actions. The research on 112 first-time donors was published in Psychosomatic Medicine (Vol. 63, No. 3, pages 447-452).

  • Muscle-tension exercises. Donors tense specified muscles at five-second intervals throughout the blood donation. The tensing increases blood pressure and appears to be particularly effective for women, but not for men. That lack of effect might be because men often underreport their symptoms, France noted.

Another factor might be that women typically lose a greater proportion of their blood during donation, since the same amount of blood is taken from every donor regardless of their body type. So, women might just benefit more from this particular intervention because they may have more symptoms to begin with, France noted.

The muscle-tension research on 605 donors was published in Transfusion (Vol. 43, No. 9, pages 1,269-1,275).

  • Drinking more water. Donors drink about two cups of water 30 minutes before donating blood. The extra fluid increases blood pressure and appears to be effective in both men and women. The study of 83 undergraduates was published in Transfusion (Vol. 44, No. 6, pages 924-928).

France and his colleagues are now testing whether study participants who visit a donor-education Web site outlining these techniques can effectively reduce their symptoms when they donate. The team also hopes to develop an educational brochure for donation sites.