7 Frequently Asked Questions About Bone Marrow Donation Women Should Know

Bone Marrow Donation Procedure

You’re thinking about donating bone marrow? That’s great!

About 18,000 people need a bone marrow transplant every single year, so donating bone marrow can be very critical in saving someone’s life. 

But you may have questions about being a bone marrow donor.  

For those looking to be a bone marrow transplant donor, we’ve compiled a list of the seven most frequently asked questions about bone marrow donation risks.

1. What Are the Side Effects?

During a bone marrow transplant, bone marrow is taken from the donor and transferred into a recipient where new stem cells are cultivated. Bone marrow is a soft, fatty tissue found inside the bones. It is most commonly extracted from the:

  • Brestbone

  • Hip

  • Skull

  • Ribs

  • Spine

These bones all contain stem cells that produce white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. White blood cells work hard to fight against infections whereas red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body and help eliminate waste from the body’s tissues and organs. Platelets allow the blood to clot.

The bone marrow is collected from the donor, while under general anesthetic. During the bone marrow donation, you are put in a sleep-like state using a combination of inhaled gases and intravenous drugs. Most side effects come from the anesthetic. 

After the procedure, you will likely experience side effects such as:

  • Fatigue

  • Back pain

  • Hip bain

  • Muscle pain

  • Headache

  • Bruising at the incision site

Expect side effects to last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Additional side effects from the anesthesia can include mild nausea, vomiting, and a sore throat. Most donors are recommended to take pain relievers for the discomfort. 

Click here to learn more about bone marrow donation options. 

2. How Long Is the Recovery Time?

Bone marrow donation is a surgical process. It is typically an outpatient procedure and you’ll return home the same day as the operation. Most people only stay in the recovery room for about an hour.

Many people who donate are able to return to their usual routine just a few days after the donation. Your bone marrow will replace itself four to six weeks after the procedure.   

3. What Is the Pain Level of the Procedure?

Because the donation process is done under a regional or general anesthetic, you won’t feel any pain during the procedure. After donating bone marrow, people experience different levels of pain. 

The bone marrow is extracted by injecting a needle into the back of your pelvic bone with two separate perforations. This procedure will often leave the donor sore. 

Some describe the pain as an ache on their hips or backside, while others say it feels like a strained muscle in their back. Sometimes donors report difficulty sleeping. Aches may last up to several weeks. 

4. Can I Expect Medical Complications Related to the Donation?

No medical procedure is risk-free. Always be upfront with your health care provider about pre-existing medical conditions and have an open dialogue about donating bone marrow to make sure you’re a good candidate. 

About 2.4% of donors experience serious complications due to damaged bones or anesthesia.

If you donate through organizations like Be The Match, you are covered by medical and disability insurance for medical complications directly related to the bone marrow donation. Both the donor and patient are also monitored by a safety committee. 

5. What Is the Time Commitment?

The average time commitment for the bone marrow donation process is 20-30 hours over a four-to-six week period. This does not include travel time or overnight stays. The actual bone marrow donation will take one to two hours.

Almost 40% of donors will experience travel time throughout the bone marrow donation process. 

It is important to attend information sessions that provide resources to help you understand your responsibilities as a donor. Determining donor suitability with a simple blood test or cheek swab at the beginning of the process is critical. 

Online registration to be a bone marrow donor takes less than ten minutes! 

6. Is It Harmful for Me to Lose Bone Marrow?

About 5% of your total bone marrow cells are collected during the procedure. It is not harmful to lose bone marrow in this small quantity. Your body will naturally replace the lost bone marrow over the next several weeks.

Donating bone marrow does not weaken your immune system or body. The average individual will donate approximately one quart of bone marrow, a fraction of the total bone marrow your body contains.

During the donation process, the bone marrow is filtered to remove particles of bone or fat. In addition to the bone marrow, red blood cells are also taken and later given back to the donor via an IV in the recovery room. 

7. How Is My Personal Information Handled?

There are millions of donors on the registry. Privacy and confidentiality is a high priority for bone marrow donation organizations like Be The Match or the National Marrow Donor Program. Personal information is never shared with government agencies or companies.

Genetic type information obtained from your blood test or cheek swab and personal identifying information are stored separately to ensure your privacy. 

Your genetic type information helps match donors to recipients. The closer the match is, the higher likelihood the bone marrow transplant will be successful. 

Bone Marrow Donation Risks

Considering to be a bone marrow donor can be a stressful process. Curb your worries by being aware of the bone marrow donation risks. Always consult your health care professional before making the decision to become a donor. 

Remember, if you are a good candidate, you could be the answer to saving someone’s life!

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