Donating convalescent plasma
Convalescent plasma is collected using a process called plasmapheresis.
This process uses a machine to separate your blood into its different components: red cells, platelets and plasma. The plasma can then be collected into a donation bag, while the other components are safely returned to your body.
This short video explains:
If you have recovered from COVID-19, you may be able to help coronavirus patients by volunteering to donate plasma.
The process involves your blood being separated in a machine into its different components: plasma, red cells and platelets.
The plasma is then collected into a donation bag, and your red cells and platelets will be returned to your body.
The process uses just one needle, which allows the machine to constantly draw and return your blood to you throughout the donation. A donation usually takes around 40 minutes.
All the materials used during the procedure are disposable and single use.
You must be over a certain height and weight and have good veins to be considered as a plasmapheresis donor, so it’s best to get these checked before you attend to donate.
Make sure you drink plenty of fluids such as water or juice and have a healthy breakfast before attending a plasma donation session. Avoid drinks such as coffee, tea or alcohol as they can dehydrate you.
Avoid fatty, oily or greasy meals before your donation, as these could affect the quality of your plasma.
You will need to wear a face covering when you donate so make sure you have one before travelling. It doesn’t have to be a surgical mask but should cover your mouth and nose.
Potential side effects are usually related to a needle going into your arm.
- You may develop bruising which is usually harmless and will fade within a few days.
- Some donors may feel lightheaded, sweaty, shaky or even faint.
We advise you to report anything that doesn’t feel right to a member of staff, so that we can care for you and make sure you feel better before leaving the session.
Rare side effects
You could also develop a nerve injury, tendon injury or the puncture of an artery, but these are very rare.
If any of these do occur, please call us on 0300 123 23 23 or call NHS 111 for advice. If symptoms persist, you should go to your GP.
Other very rare side effects include:
- air embolism – air travelling into your bloodstream
- haemolysis – red cells breaking down as a consequence of an excessive centrifugal speed in the plasmapheresis machine.
These side effects are very uncommon and the chances of them happening are very minimal, but we have a legal duty to let you know that they may occur.
Anticoagulent is a solution added to your blood to stop it from clotting inside the plasmapheresis machine.
It can give you some side effects, such as vibration, restlessness and altered taste.
It can also provoke arrythmias in people suffering with any underlying cardiac condition. For this reason, we will check your pulse for 15 seconds before you donate to make sure it is regular and between 50 and 100 beats per minute. If it is not, we will not take a donation and advise you to visit your GP for advice.
Returning to donate
There is always some blood left in the machine that cannot be returned to you, but this is something your body can easily replace within a few days. For this reason, you will have to wait 2 weeks before returning to donate.
If you feel unwell during the donation and we have to stop the procedure, more red cells will be lost than with a normal donation, which means you will have to wait 4 weeks before returning to donate.
As a consequence of your blood leaving and re-entering your body, you may feel a bit cold during the donation. If this happens we can provide you with a heat pad underneath your arm or a blanket.
In summary, giving plasma should be a pleasant experience. Please let us know if anything does not feel alright during your donation.
As you will be at the session for nearly an hour, we advise you to bring a tablet, headphones, a book or something you can manage with one hand.
During the donation we will provide you with drinks, and you will be provided with snacks before you leave the session.
Please attend 10 to 15 minutes before your appointment time, as you will need to read the Welcome Booklet, as well as a Convalescent Plasma Donor information leaflet prior to your donation.
The Welcome Booklet has more information about blood safety, possible complications, the donation process, donation testing and how we use your personal information.
It’s important that you have the time to read and understand this information, before you sign the written consent and go ahead with your donation.
The nurse will be happy to clarify anything you are unsure about.