Research study update: How feeling faint can change your decision to donate again

What was the question?

We wanted to find out how donors feel about donating blood or plasma after experiencing dizziness, nausea or a faint (a group of symptoms known as a “vasovagal reaction”). In particular, we were interested in how they felt about the event, why they think it happened, and how they feel about giving blood again.

Why is it important?

We know that many donors who experience vasovagal reactions don’t come back. But not all donors stop donating after a reaction. In Australia, for example, vasovagal reactions only reduce the number of donors returning by 27% for blood donors and 22% for plasma donors. We do not know why some donors choose to come back while others do not.

What did we do?

We interviewed 20 blood and 16 plasma donors who had recently experienced a vasovagal reaction. All donors were eligible to return at the time of interview. We compared their responses against whether they returned within 6 months after the interview.

What did we find out?

Donors are generally motivated to give blood to help others in their communities. They anticipate that they will feel good after their donation but, for some, a vasovagal reaction leaves them feeling anxious, embarrassed, and disappointed. Donors who were aware of the risk of vasovagal reactions felt calm and had better donation experiences.

Donors who experienced a vasovagal reaction were less confident of their ability to donate successfully, and many fear it will happen again. However, donors who felt that their actions (such as not drinking enough water) were partially to blame were more confident about future donations.

For donors who are already juggling multiple demands, a vasovagal reaction may tip the balance, with donating becoming too much of an effort and risk to their own wellbeing. However, donors appeared more confident to return if they felt supported by staff, were aware of strategies to reduce their risk of having another reaction, or if they could donate with family or friends.

Questions that these donors would like answered included when they would be able to donate again, if their donation was used, and how they might prevent a vasovagal reaction in future. Some donors would have liked to have been asked if they were feeling okay more frequently during their donation or when they were recovering in the refreshments area.

What are the next steps?

We will develop and test ways that we can improve the donor experience after a vasovagal reaction.

We thank all the donors who participated in this study.

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