Donating Blood if You Have Multiple Sclerosis

MS is NOT a reason to exclude someone from giving blood (but it still happens).

If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), and meet all other inclusion criteria, you are eligible to donate blood, according to the American Red Cross. However, it is not always that easy.

I have looked very closely at the eligibility guidelines for being a blood donor on the Red Cross website. The website did not specifically mention MS as an exclusionary factor for being a blood donor. The closest it comes to addressing MS is under the heading of “Chronic Diseases,” where it is stated: “Most chronic illnesses are acceptable as long as you feel well, the condition is under control, and you meet all other eligibility requirements.”

I called the National Headquarters of the American Red Cross (1-800-GIVE-LIFE) to confirm that MS had was not on the list of excluded conditions. I was told that people with MS could donate blood if they met all of the other criteria.

I originally thought this was a very simple question and that I had received a simple answer from the Red Cross. However, since I received this question in 2007, I still get comments from people with MS who say that they have been rejected from donating blood. It appears that the individual blood banks (and possibly the individuals working there) all use their own discretion to decide whether someone with MS is eligible to donate blood.

Of course, it is important to mention any medications that you are taking to the nurse at the blood donation center. Although none of the disease-modifying therapies or common symptom management meds are specifically listed as restricted, the person whom I spoke with at the National Headquarters said that any drug in question would be looked up on site.

Here are some comments from people with MS who have tried to donate blood in the past:

  • Thanks for the answer to a question that I always wanted to know. I found out I had MS ten years ago and stopped donating. It will be great knowing that I can do something for others again.
  • Since MS is not addressed in any way (it’s just not on the list), that doesn’t mean it’s okay!! Right on that page, they say the list is incomplete and also, that while some rules are in place across the board, in other cases the individual banks can make their decision.
  • I have been a regular blood donor since the late 90s so when I was diagnosed with MS in 2007 I figured oh well, I’ve done my part. That was when my doctor told me it was fine to still donate so long as it isn’t affecting my health (adding to fatigue mainly). Today was my 14th donation since MS diagnosis and it went smooth as always. The Red Cross staff calls their doctor to approve the drugs that I am on and confirm that I am not stumbling or otherwise looking in ill health. Then I am good to go!
  • I went today to give blood. They were SO HAPPY said that I would be getting tons of calls, because I am O-negative. That was until I mentioned I had MS. They immediately said no.
  • I was diagnosed with MS about 15 yrs ago. I was goaded into a blood donation by a nurse/friend. Initially, they said no. Then the nurse asked someone else. They asked if I was in a hurry and I said I could wait. The “no” turned into a “maybe.” Then they called Red Cross headquarters and came back with a “yes,” if I was not symptomatic of a relapse. I have to go through the same song and dance every time, but I now donate every 8 weeks. I do red cells too.

Bottom Line: While MS itself is not a valid reason to reject someone from donating blood, it is important to review the eligibility criteria very closely.

There are many other reasons not related to MS (i.e. pregnancy, travel to areas where there is malaria, etc.) to deny you from donating blood or ask you to delay your donation.

It is also a good idea to do a little self-inventory on how you are feeling. If you are experiencing a great deal of fatigue, maybe donating blood is not the best idea for you right now. Also, I’ll say it again – make sure that you list every medication that you are taking (including recent infusions) so that they can be looked up and confirmed to be safe in donated blood.

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