The Real Reason Not Everyone Can Donate Bone Marrow

Donating bone marrow is a wonderful way to make a difference in somebody else's life. People need bone marrow transplants to treat a variety of diseases including leukemia, lymphoma, severe aplastic anemia, multiple myeloma, immune deficiency disorders, and certain cancers (per Johns Hopkins Medicine).

Of approximately 10,000 Americans who need a bone marrow transplant at any given time, fewer than one-third have a matching donor in their families. The remainder rely on the generosity of strangers, but since only 2% of Americans are on the registry, at least 3,000 Americans die each year because they cannot find a compatible donor (per Institute for Justice).

Some people don't join the registry because they have misunderstandings about the process. For example, many people perceive the process to be more complicated and painful than it actually is. In reality, most donors say that the joy of saving a life far outweighs any discomfort that results from the process. Long-term side effects are rare, according to the National Marrow Donor Program.

That being said, there are some reasons a person may not be able to donate bone marrow, even if they are comfortable with the process.

This is why a person may not be able to donate bone marrow

If a person wants to donate bone marrow, they undergo a review of any past or present conditions to check if there are any that may prevent them from donating, for either their sake or that of the recipient. People with back or hip injuries or conditions generally cannot donate bone marrow, but they can still donate peripheral blood cells. Women cannot donate bone marrow during pregnancy because of certain antibodies that may trigger a bad reaction after the transplant (per Gift of Life Marrow Registry).

Other conditions that may prevent a person from donating bone marrow include HIV/AIDS, serious liver or kidney diseases, severe arthritic conditions, asthma that requires daily use of oral steroids, and most cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and autoimmune disorders. A person who has a serious cold or flu will not be able to donate until they are feeling better. Certain medications will also prevent you from donating. In addition, people who are either underweight or overweight may be barred from donating, for their own safety (per National Marrow Donor Program).