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How Plasma Donation Works and Why People Need It

Plasma is the protein-rich liquid in your blood that helps other blood components – like your red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets – circulate throughout your body. It’s the single largest component of human blood, comprising approximately 55% of your blood!

Plasma Collection in Canada

Did you know that it takes as many as four whole blood donations to collect enough plasma for one single plasma treatment? In Canada, both Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec collect plasma to:

  • Manufacture plasma products
  • Distribute plasma products to Canadian hospitals

*Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec are not-for-profit charitable organizations that operate independently from the Canadian government. However, their funding primarily comes from provincial governments. There are also private companies that collect plasma donations for the same reasons listed above.

Since there is not enough plasma collected in Canada to meet the demand for plasma products, Canada  currently imports close to 70% of its plasma from the United States, where they have paid plasma donor plans.

For more information about the regulations impacting plasma donation in Canada, read the Plasma Donations in Canada webpage from the Government of Canada.

man comparing blood and plasma bags

Why Do People Need Plasma Donations?

Plasma helps support your immune system and plays a critical role in clotting blood to prevent excessive bleeding. This is why plasma donations are so incredibly important – they help treat bleeding disorders, liver disease, and several types of cancer, among other conditions like:

Commonly used plasma products include:

  • Albumin: used to treat fluid loss in burn and trauma patients
  • Immune globulins: used to treat or prevent infections and immune disorders
  • Clotting factors: used to treat hemophilia and other bleeding disorders

woman giving blood donation administered by nurse

How Plasma Donation Works

The plasma donation process is quite time-consuming, taking approximately 2 hours for the initial visit and 1.5 hours for each following donation appointment. Donating plasma is very similar to donating blood – the steps to donate plasma include:

  1. Registration. At this stage, you will be asked for valid identification, to fill out paperwork, and to undergo some preliminary health checks, such as having your blood pressure checked.
  2. Screening. During the screening process, you will likely undergo a physical examination, meet with medical staff to review your paperwork, ask any questions you may have, and confirm your consent to the donation process.
  3. Donation. While donating plasma, you will be connected to a plasmapheresis machine while you are monitored by staff.
  4. Post-donation care. This is the easiest part. After the donation process, you sit and relax while enjoying refreshments.

Based on your eligibility, the plasma collection can be done in one of two ways:

  • Recovered plasma: the plasma is separated from blood after a whole blood donation
  • Apheresis: the plasma is separated during donation so that the red and white blood cells, as well as the platelets, can be put back into the donor’s body.

It’s encouraged that you make an appointment if you’re interested in donating plasma since walk-in appointments may not be available.

To learn more about why and how plasma is collected, watch this quick video by the Canadian Blood Services: Plasma for Transfusion.

up close image of blood donation

Getting Paid for Plasma Donations

Each province and territory decides how to collect plasma in their jurisdictions. Some provinces prohibit private clinics from paying plasma donors; however there are some private clinics in Canada that will pay donors for plasma. For example, Canadian Plasma Resources provides compensation of $50 per donation. Neither Canadian Blood Services nor Héma-Québec pays their donors for plasma or blood.

Whether plasma donations are paid or not, donation centres are strictly regulated and must comply with the Food and Drugs Act and Blood Regulations. This means that there are strict protocols at every stage of collecting, testing, and production to ensure safety for both paid and unpaid plasma donations.

plasma donations in test tubes

How to Qualify As a Plasma Donor

Individuals that are healthy and meet the plasma donation centres’ eligibility criteria can donate plasma as frequently as once every 7 days. Having a history of regularly donating blood may make you a more desirable candidate since you have already been cleared to donate, but this is not always the case.

Eligible plasma donors typically have the following characteristics:

  • Aged between 17 and 68 years old.
  • Sufficiently answer a questionnaire and pass the interview and medical examination.
  • Have a valid Canadian ID, such as photo identification, proof of address, and a social insurance card.

A person’s blood type can determine how high in demand your plasma may be, much like a blood donation:

  • Individuals with blood type AB are considered potential universal donors for plasma. This is the most in-demand type of plasma, as it can be received by anyone of any blood type.
  • If you have the blood type 0-Negative (O-), you are a universal red blood cell donor and it is encouraged that you make a blood donation instead of a plasma donation.

Plasma donations are vital for the health and well-being of Canadians. If you wish to donate plasma, you can find a plasma donor centre on the Canadian Blood Services and/or Héma-Québec website.

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