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Can You Donate Plasma if You're Overweight

Donating plasma can be a great way to not only help those in need but also make some extra cash on the side.

But can everyone do it? More specifically, can you donate plasma if you’re overweight?

Yes, you can donate plasma if you’re overweight. As long as you pass the physical exam beforehand and meet the other qualifications, being obese or overweight shouldn’t affect the donation process. Some other qualifications include being hydrated enough, having enough protein in your blood, and having your heart rate and blood pressure within normal ranges. 

Below, we’ll take a look at the specific qualifications for donating plasma and whether it’s safe for an obese person to donate plasma. I’ll also answer some questions you might have about donating plasma as an overweight person and provide some tips that I wish I would have known the first time I went to donate plasma.

Do You Really Know What Plasma Is?

I know, you probably know it’s in your blood but people aren’t always aware of what plasma really is, so here’s a quick explanation.

Plasma is the liquid portion of your blood. It carries red blood cells, white blood cells, and nutrients to different areas of the body. Additionally, plasma plays a big role in blood clotting and immune system health.

Plasma is collected at donation centers. It may be used for patients that have experienced severe blood loss or trauma in emergencies or to help people with auto-immune or clotting disorders.

With a relatively low risk of side effects, it’s a great way to make a difference in someone’s lives and the cash reimbursement is a nice perk, too.

Qualifications for Donating Plasma At Any Weight

1. Weight Limits

To donate plasma, a person must weigh a minimum of 110 pounds. In other words, rather than a high-end weight limit, there’s actually a lower weight limit!

The amount of blood (and plasma) in your body is affected by weight because having more cells means that your body needs more blood to keep them working. People who weigh at least 110 pounds should have enough plasma to donate the minimum amount without putting excessive strain on their bodies.

Even though lower weight ranges are clearly stated on most plasma donation websites, there aren’t really weight limits provided for heavyset people. However, something to note is that traditional beds and equipment used in the donation process might max out somewhere around 400 pounds.

However,  if you’re heavier but still in good health otherwise, you should consider contacting the clinic beforehand and ask for additional accommodations.

2. Protein and Hemoglobin Levels

During pre-screening and after your physical evaluation, a center employee pricks your finger with a small needle and collects some blood. They use this to test protein and hemoglobin levels.

Your protein levels may be low if you don’t eat a lot of protein or if your body doesn’t digest proteins well due to an underlying problem. If your protein level is too high, it usually indicates that you are not hydrated enough. For hemoglobin, a free serum test is used to see the amount of fluid that can be separated from the blood. This helps provide information on how easy or difficult it will be to collect plasma.

When you are approved for donation but do not fall within normal range of these tests, you are usually deferred. This doesn’t disqualify you from donating permanently, but you do have to wait 24 hours before donating again.

3. Hydration Levels

When you first donate, they’ll ask questions about what foods you have eaten leading up to the test and how much water you’ve had. It’s very important to be honest about these questions, since eating something with protein and drinking enough water helps speed the donation process along.

It also ensures that your body has something in it to start replacing some of the plasma that has been lost after the donation process.

4. Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

A center employee will also test your blood pressure and heart rate every time that you donate. An overweight person has a higher risk of high blood pressure than other people. However, being overweight does not guarantee high blood pressure, especially if you are generally healthy.

If your heart rate or blood pressure isn’t within range, the center usually has you wait five minutes and they’ll test you again. You’ll be deferred if the numbers are out of range and won’t be able to donate for at least 24 hours.

Blood pressure is a complicated topic and if you’re blood pressure is high you should consult your doctor but staying active with things like cycling, CrossFit, or even dancing can all help with your cardiovascular health.

5. Overall Health and Wellness

Prior to your first donation, you’ll need to complete a physical. Plasma donation centers have people onsite that are qualified to do this physical, where they’ll listen to your breathing, check for stomach pain and spinal alignment, and ensure you are generally healthy enough to donate. This usually needs to be re-completed at least once per year for as long as you choose to donate.

In addition to completing a physical, donors go through a long, thorough screening process. You’ll answer questions about your overall health and wellness, as well as questions about your lifestyle. People who have a higher risk of illness that can be transferred through the blood like HIV or hepatitis will be deferred from donation.

Additionally, you’ll answer questions about medications, new tattoos or piercings, or surgeries. While these things do not always defer you permanently, it is important to be honest. Getting new body modifications or having surgery lowers the body’s natural immune system and can cause complications with the donation process.

Can You Be Too Fat to Donate Plasma?

For people wondering if it’s possible to be too obese to donate plasma, it is possible to be disqualified or deferred if it wouldn’t be safe for you to donate. Plasma centers use medical equipment like blood pressure cuffs and patient beds during the collection process. As long as this equipment is manufactured strong enough to support someone around your weight, there’s no reason that a heavyset person cannot donate.

For the process to be considered safe, you’ll need to be able to sit comfortable on the beds provided during the donation process. Having good access to veins is also important. Since vein access isn’t as easy in obese people, this is also something that could disqualify you from donating. Both sides of your arms are checked before your first donation. By drinking more water, veins are full of fluids and more visible. This is something that can help if nurses or other medical professional have had trouble finding your veins in the past.

How Often Can an Overweight Person Donate Plasma?

When you donate plasma, your whole blood is taken out and sent through a machine that separates the plasma from the blood. Then, the blood is returned to your body. Since plasma donation isn’t whole blood donation, people are allowed to donate more frequently than they can donate blood.

Even so, it’s important to remember that there can be side effects of donating so you may not want to donate as often as you are allowed.

People who are overweight can donate as often as anyone else. In fact, people who are overweight actually donate more plasma because they have more blood in their body and can withstand a greater donation. At the donation centers I’ve used, you have to wait two days between donations and you can only donate twice each week. So, if you donated on a Tuesday, you could donate on Thursday but then could not donate again until Tuesday of the following week.

Tips for Donating Plasma for Fat People

Knowing what to expect beforehand can help make your first donation process go a lot smoother. Here’s a short video on what you can expect with plasma donation before we get into some helpful tips.

Be Well-Hydrated

It isn’t enough to drink water steadily for a few hours before you donate. You’ll want to start upping your water intake the day/night before your donation. This gives your body time to process the water and increases the hydration levels throughout your body. For people who have trouble finding their veins, being extra hydrated ensures veins are plumper and easier to see.

Avoid Fatty Foods Beforehand

When people eat fatty foods, their bodies transport this fat through the bloodstream while it’s being digested. Blood that has extra fatty lipids in it is harder to separate, so the plasma donation process doesn’t go as smoothly. It can also cause problems with the machine and even changes the color of your plasma.

To avoid this and ensure everything goes as efficiently as possible, avoid fatty foods for at least three hours before your appointment. Ideally, you should avoid fatty foods the day before as well.

Use the Restroom When You Walk In

One of the problems with drinking extra water before your appointment is that you’ll need to use the restroom. You cannot get up at all once you’re attached to the machine or they’ll end the collection process. For this reason, be sure to use the bathroom upon walking into the donation center. If you are doing a physical (which you will need to do if it’s your first time), it might also be a good idea to go between the physical and heading to the back to be hooked to the machine.

Stay Warm

Every plasma donation center I’ve visited has been incredibly cold. While I don’t know that it’s the real reason, an employee once told me that it was to help keep donors awake and alert. This is important since you’ll need to squeeze or relax your hand depending on where you are in the donation process.

Since it’s so cold, you’ll want to wear appropriate clothing, even in the summer time. It’s also important that you choose something you can easily roll up for needle access. Bringing a blanket along to throw over yourself is also an option, especially during warmer months when you may not want to dress in warmer clothing to go outside.

Bring Something to Do

The length of the donation process varies depending on factors like how hydrated you are and how quickly the machine is working. Usually, the amount of time you’re hooked up varies from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. While the machine is removing blood and plasma, you’ll need to squeeze your hand to keep things moving. You can do this on your own, or use a stress ball or something. Some centers even have stress balls they’ll provide to you.

Most people bring books, headphones to listen to music, or entertain themselves on their phones. I’ve even brought along my laptop and caught up on the latest episode of my favorite TV show while donating.

Eat Protein and Drink Water Afterwards, Too

People are allowed to donate plasma more frequently than blood because their blood is returned to their body. For people who are healthy, it’s easy enough to make more. Even so, you’ll want to give your body the support that it needs to replace what was lost. Since plasma is made up of around 8-9% protein solids and 91-92% water, ensuring you add these things to your diet helps replenish your plasma.

Listen to Your Body

The final piece of advice I’d give is to listen to your body. Even though plasma donation centers put some limits on how often you can donate, there are long-term risks associated with plasma donation. This is especially true for people who do it for months at a time.

Even though your body will eventually replace plasma, constantly depleting your stores does put a strain on your body. Donating plasma also effects immune system health and you’re more susceptible to illnesses right after donating. Because of that, it’s important to take your recovery seriously which includes focusing on quality and restful sleep along with everything else we’ve already mentioned.

If you aren’t feeling the best or it takes longer to get back to feeling normal after donating, it may be in the best interest of your health to take a break.

Commercial plasma donation centers sell plasma, so it’s in their best interest to encourage people to donate more frequently. However, the American Red Cross recommends donating only once every 28 days, for a total of 13 times per year. This is much less frequent than some centers will let you donate, which is around 8-10 times per month.

Final Word

So, can you donate plasma if you’re overweight? Absolutely!

For people who are overweight like me, donating plasma is still something that you can do to make time and help other people even though you’re a little heavier. In fact, you can actually donate more plasma because you have more to give. There aren’t many risks associated with the donation process in the short-term and it’s generally considered safe. Plus, you have to pass several tests beforehand to ensure your donation goes as smoothly and safely as possible.

Doing things like avoiding fatty foods beforehand and drinking plenty of water ensures that your plasma donation will go smooth. During the process, using the restroom, bringing a blanket, and bringing something to do is another way you can make your visit more pleasant.

If you want to share your experience or you have any tips for an overweight person donating plasma, feel free to leave a comment below!

Camila R.

Camila is a body positive blogger and fat activist that's focused on helping people of all sizes live life big! That means accepting yourself at any size and just enjoying life! She lives in New Mexico with her husband and two chihauhuas.

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