Teenage Women Blood Donors May Be at Risk for Brain Issues

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The need for blood donations is high: According to the American Red Cross, someone in the U.S. requires blood every two seconds. A new study from Johns Hopkins Medicine, published in the journal Transfusion, shows that teenage women have answered the call, donating more blood than their adult counterparts.

The issue? The younger contingent, ages 16 to 19, is more likely to have iron-deficiency anemia than older blood donors — and donating blood causes a loss of iron stores. Low iron stores, reads the study, “could have significant negative consequences on their developing brains.”

In the U.S., blood donors must be 17 years old, or 16 with the consent of a parent or guardian, and weigh at least 110 pounds. About 6.8 million people donate blood each year, according to the Red Cross, and thanks to high school blood drives, adolescents between 16 and 18 contributed about 1.5 million pints of blood in 2015.

Of the 9,647 women involved in the Hopkins study — all of whom provided blood samples and blood donor history information — 2,419 were between 16 and 19. More than 10 percent of the teens had donated blood within the past year, compared to just over 6 percent of adult women. Blood iron levels were lower in donors than non-donors, and the prevalence of iron deficiency anemia was 9.5 percent in adolescents who gave blood, 7.9 percent in older blood donors, and 6.1 percent in women of any age who didn’t donate blood.

The researchers suggest more protections for young female blood donors, such as iron supplements, increasing the minimum time between donations (currently 8 weeks for whole blood donations), or encouraging platelet or plasma donations rather than whole blood.