Effects on the body of regular blood donation

Keith Roach
To Your Health

Dear Dr. Roach: My blood type is O-negative. I am well aware that O is the universal donor blood type. I have tried to donate every eight weeks since I was 16. I am now turning 49 in a few weeks, and wonder how many people I’ve helped over the years and if there are any health benefits or problems with me donating so much. I do have scars on my arms from the needles, and was worried that people (doctors or police officers) might mistake these scars as illegal needle use. The ladies at the blood bank have told me the scars I have do not look the same as the scars from illegal drug use. Can you put my mind at ease about the needle scars and whether I am helping or hurting my own body by donating so often?


Dear C.S.: Blood donation occasionally is safe. Giving blood as often as every eight weeks is safe for most people, but some people can become iron-deficient by donating so frequently. This is why blood banks check your hemoglobin level, to ensure that it is safe for you to donate. Some people need to take iron supplements to allow them to donate so frequently.

It usually is very easy to tell the difference between frequent professional blood draws or IV lines and injection of illicit drugs, so I would not be concerned about that.

I commend you for donating so much of your blood. All blood is precious, but some subtypes (such as your O-negative blood, or in people who have never been exposed to the virus CMV) are especially valuable.

Dear Dr. Roach: In July 1998, a skin biopsy gave me a diagnosis of lichen simplex chronicus. I suffered with this for over four years, and my symptoms worsened with heat, stockings or coverings. Ice, peroxide and cortisone salve gave only temporary relief for severe itching and eruptions. After 15 years of no medications, per my doctor’s decision that it would go away on its own, I am now in the third month of a severe outbreak. I am 76 years of age and caring for a husband with a serious neurological disease. I am well-educated and am coping pretty well except for the skin problem on my left leg. I am quite healthy for my age.


Dear M.L.: Lichen simplex chronicus is caused by excessive scratching. Many skin disorders that can cause itching lead to a cycle of scratching, which leads to more itching. This condition does seem to be more prevalent in people with highly stressful lives or with depression, and you certainly have stress in dealing with your husband’s condition.

The treatment is to break the cycle. Cortisone is not, in my experience, strong enough to do so; I use more potent (prescription strength) topical steroids and a bandage that keeps the steroids on and prevents scratching for a period of time. Sometimes topical salicylates or systemic treatments are used. I would find a dermatologist, who is likely to have experience with this condition.

Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.