What Causes a Blood Shortage?
How You Can Help
Updated January 2024
Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood for surgeries, cancer treatments, accidents and chronic illnesses. Regardless of age, sex, race or economic status, blood is a universal lifeline.
When this precious resource runs low, people can't get the lifesaving treatments they need. It becomes a matter of life and death. There are many reasons for shortages, including donor turnout. Of the 38% of people in the U.S. who are eligible to donate blood, only about 3% do so.
The low percentage of donors is linked to a number of factors:
- Busy travel seasons
- Seasonal viral illnesses in communities
- Climate-driven disasters like hurricanes
- Younger donors giving blood less often
- A growing remote workforce with fewer workplace blood drives
- Fewer school blood donation programs
According to the American Red Cross, approximately 29,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S. There are many different illnesses that require blood products as part of treatment. For example, people with sickle cell disease may depend on frequent blood transfusions, needing as many as 100 units of red blood cells per patient each year.
Patients undergoing cancer treatments often require blood or platelet transfusions during their treatments. In fact, nearly half of all platelet donations in the U.S. are given to patients undergoing cancer treatments. Outside of illness, just one person injured from a car accident can require as many as 100 units of blood.
"Advances in medical care over the years have also increased the need for blood for treatment for many diseases," says Glenn E. Ramsey, MD, medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Blood Bank at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and professor of Pathology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Survival rates for many cancers and blood diseases are improving, but extended transfusions are often needed during their therapy."
How You Can Help
By donating blood, you can help patients who:
- Have a blood disorder.
- Are undergoing chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant.
- Require major surgery or an organ transplant.
- Lose blood during childbirth.
- Are newborn babies with low blood counts.
- Suffer trauma and need urgent treatment.
Typically, a single blood donation will be used for two or three patients. During their lifetime, many people will require a blood transfusion. Donating now is a way to pay it forward for the future needs of others and for your future self.
To find a donation site near you, please visit nm.org/donateblood.