What is mostly water – yet can help your blood to clot? What is needed in hospitals all over the country, every day of the year – but can only be supplied by voluntary donors? The answer is plasma! Learn more about this incredible, lifesaving liquid.

Plasma is the liquid portion of blood

Our blood is made of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, which are all suspended in plasma. Approximately 55% of our blood is plasma, and the plasma itself is about 92% water. (The rest of it is vital proteins such as albumin, gamma globulin and clotting factors, as well as mineral salts, sugars, fats, hormones and vitamins.)

Plasma serves four important functions in our bodies:

  1.     Helps to maintain blood pressure and volume.
  2.     Supplies critical proteins for blood clotting and immunity.
  3.     Carries electrolytes such as sodium and potassium to our muscles.
  4.     Helps to maintain a proper pH balance in the body, which supports cell function.

How is plasma used?

If you’ve ever heard your favorite TV doctors ask for “FFP,” they’re asking for plasma (fresh frozen plasma to be exact). It can be stored for one year and thawed only when needed. Plasma is commonly given to trauma, burn and shock patients, as well as people with severe liver disease or patients receiving liver transplants. It helps boost the patient’s blood volume, which can prevent shock, and help with blood clotting. Why is it called FFP? That’s because donated plasma is frozen within 24 hours of being donated to preserve its valuable clotting factors. 

Does blood type matter with plasma?

Just like blood transfusions, plasma transfusions must come from a compatible donor – or from a “universal” donor whose blood is compatible with all other types. People with AB negative blood type are considered universal plasma donors. (O negative is the universal blood type.) 

Since AB plasma can be given to patients of any blood type, plasma transfusions can be given immediately. That means medical professional don’t lose precious time determining if the patient’s blood type is compatible. In emergency medicine, such as caring for a trauma or burn patients, time saved can mean the difference between life and death.  

How do you donate plasma?

Plasma can be collected through aphaeresis. It’s an automated process that separates plasma from other blood components, then safely and comfortably returns your red blood cells and platelets to you, along with some saline. At the Red Cross, we call this an AB Elite donation. While we also collect plasma during regular blood and platelet donations, a plasma-only donation through this process is just for donors with type AB blood. 

Are plasma donations needed right now?

AB blood type is uncommon in the United States – only about 4% of us have it. That means most Americans can’t make this important donation, and we all rely on a small group of people to make this donation. So if you have type AB blood (either AB positive or AB negative), your plasma is definitely needed. 

AB Elite (AB plasma) donations can be made every 28 days, up to 13 times per year. The average donation takes one hour and 15 minutes, which is not much longer than a regular blood donation. And a single AB Elite donation can provide up to three units of plasma to patients in need, so your donation could help save multiple lives. 

Do you have type AB blood? If so, please consider joining the AB Elite program and donate your universal plasma. Learn more and make an appointment.