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BACKGROUND:  Unpleasant blood donation-related symptoms may discourage otherwise healthy, altruistic individuals from becoming repeat donors. This study examined a behavioral technique called applied muscle tension (AMT) that might reduce reactions.

STUDY DESIGN and METHODS:  A total of 605 donors at mobile clinics were assigned to either an AMT treatment condition, a no-treatment control condition, or a placebo control condition. AMT involves repeated tensing of major muscles and was taught using an instructional video. Participants in the placebo control group watched the same video but were told to practice the technique only from the time they got on the donation chair until insertion of the needle, without being told that reactions are unlikely during this period.

RESULTS:  There were no differences between men assigned to the three conditions. Women donors assigned to the AMT condition reported significantly fewer donation-related symptoms, required less chair reclining for reactions, and were more likely to produce a full unit of blood than women in both the no-treatment and placebo control conditions. Women in the AMT condition also said they would be more likely to recommend it to a friend who was going to give blood, but there were no significant effects of AMT on the rated probability of giving blood again or blood pressure change.

CONCLUSIONS:  Although it was not universally effective and the mechanisms of its effects are unclear, AMT is a simple behavioral technique that may be useful in reducing reactions to blood donation.