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Quick Dose: What Causes a Blood Shortage?

How You Can Help

When the demand for blood for treatment of serious injuries and illnesses is greater than the supply of blood that people are donating, a blood shortage occurs. The blood supply can't always meet the demand because only 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, and only about 3% of eligible people donate blood each year, according to the American Red Cross.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has faced a nationwide blood shortage because many people were only doing essential activities. Physician visits were put off. Now that people are back to seeing their physicians, new diagnoses are being made and treatments prescribed, including blood transfusions.

Advances in medical technology over the years have also increased the need for blood for treatment for many diseases, from cancer to kidney disease.

Why should I consider donating blood?

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 our lifetime, many of us 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.

Glenn E. Ramsey, MD, medical director of the Blood Bank at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and professor of Pathology at Feinberg School of Medicine