Mythbusting for National Epilepsy Week - day 4 - blood and organ donation
Myth: People with epilepsy can’t donate their organs or blood
Fact: You can donate your organs if you have epilepsy but in most cases not blood
According to the National Blood Service, it is very unlikely that people with epilepsy will be allowed to give blood (UK).
People who have epilepsy are allowed to donate blood if they have not taken epilepsy medicines in the last three years, and have not had a seizure in the last three years. These are rules from the Blood Safety and Quality Regulations (2005).
Epilepsy Action does not believe that the available research and academic evidence supports this stance. These restrictions effectively stop people with epilepsy from donating blood.
The main reason for this is that the National Blood Service has stated that giving blood could trigger a seizure. We do not believe there is evidence of this.
A study in Maryland, USA in 1987 found that the difference between people with epilepsy, and people without epilepsy, having adverse effects around giving blood was not statistically significant. This means that no difference in risk could be observed.
A 1997 research paper, also from the Maryland Epilepsy Center, states:
' ... the major reason people with epilepsy are restricted as blood donors is because of confusion in distinguishing epileptic seizures from convulsive syncope (a loss of consciousness). These disorders are now understood to be clearly different. The loss of consciousness and even convulsive activity that sometimes occurs associated with a vasovagal reaction (fainting episode) after blood donation are not directly related to or precipitated by epilepsy and should be distinguished from it. A recent study [the 1987 study] presented evidence of a low risk of adverse reactions in blood donors with epilepsy, and no significant differences as compared with other donors.
...syncope ... may in rare cases trigger an epileptic seizure ... Most of the previously reported patients with generalised epilepsy induced by syncope had no established history of epilepsy ...We are not aware that donating blood would affect the level of epilepsy medicines in your blood. This means that blood donation should pose to risk to the donor or recipient. Possible risks appear to be limited to the donation triggering a loss of consciousness, and in turn triggering a seizure, or risk of injury if a person experiences certain types of seizures while donating blood. As well as seizures caused by epilepsy, seizures before/after blood donation can be triggered by low blood sugar, low oxygen levels and low sodium, and a variety of other causes. And seizures with these triggers are not necessarily epileptic seizures.
Challenging the myth
Epilepsy Action has written to NHS Blood and Transplant, asking for clarification on the policy, evidence of why the restrictions are in place, and if the NHS Blood and Transport service will review its position. We have offered to work with the National Blood Service to improve its guidelines for people with epilepsy.
We are pleased by the response we’ve received from the Chief Executive of NHS Blood and Transplant, which acknowledges that the current policy can be improved. We hope this will see moves to change this law in the near future.