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Donating Blood While Living with Type 1 Diabetes

In Quebec, the collection and supply of blood products are managed by Héma-Québec. The organization’s mission is to efficiently provide adequate quantities of safe, optimal blood components and substitutes, human tissues and cord blood to meet the needs of all Quebecers. Everywhere else in Canada, that role is fulfilled by Canadian Blood Services.

Eligibility for donating blood is based on many criteria (age, allergies, weight, medication, etc.). 

People with type 1 diabetes (T1D) inject insulin several times a day (or use an insulin pump) to make up for their body’s inability to produce insulin, a hormone that is vital for regulating blood sugar levels. Given that they use needles and experience challenges in maintaining adequate blood sugar levels, one can wonder whether people with T1D are eligible to donate blood.

In Quebec, people with T1D are not eligible to donate blood

Based on Héma-Québec’s criteria, people with diabetes who are on insulin treatment cannot donate blood. 

But it is difficult to understand why. 

One of the most likely reasons would be the potential risk of transmitting a blood‑borne illness to the recipient—since people with T1D use needles almost daily. However, there are no studies to support the existence of this risk. 

Another hypothesis would be the general restriction implemented in the 1980s due to the risk of transmission of mad cow disease (or its human form, called variant Creutzfeld-Jakob disease). Up until the early 80s, the most widely used type of insulin was animal insulin (taken from pigs or cattle). Manufacturers stopped producing animal insulin only towards the end of the 1990s. Since then, people with T1D in Canada have been using synthetic human insulin. 

Donating blood is now authorized in other provinces and territories

Thanks to Diabetes Canada’s awareness efforts, people with T1D in other Canadian provinces and territories have been able to donate blood since March 15, 2021.

Blood donations from people with T1D are accepted only when the person has not experienced any acute health condition (e.g., hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic episode—low or high blood sugar—that required the help of another person) in the three months prior to the blood donation. Once again, however, it isn’t clear why those restrictions are needed.  

Ever since the eligibility criteria were loosened everywhere else in Canada, many adults with T1D have been able to donate blood. Now, let’s see whether Héma-Québec will follow suit and let Quebecers with T1D help to save lives! Diabetes Québec is among the organizations that are advocating for this change.

Restrictions such as these are yet another form of stigmatization experienced by patients with type 1 diabetes. The BETTER registry keeps track of this very important and often overlooked factor.

You (or your child) have not yet joined the BETTER Registry?

Learn more and register here »

References 

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