What is a blood transfusion?
During a blood transfusion, you receive blood or parts of blood through an IV (intravenous)
line. The blood may be from a donor. Or you may receive your own blood that has been
stored for you. There are several parts of blood that can be transfused. Red blood
cells are the most common type of blood product transfusion.
There are many reasons you may need a transfusion. Your healthcare provider will explain
the reasons for your transfusion.
Why might I need a blood transfusion?
There are several reasons why you may need a blood transfusion, such as:
A sudden loss of blood due to an accident or injury
Blood loss as a result of surgery
A low hemoglobin level before, during, or after surgery (hemoglobin is the protein
in red blood cells that carries oxygen)
Severe heart, lung, liver, or kidney disease
Bone marrow failure
Moderate to severe anemia (decreased red blood cells)
The parts of blood
Human blood is made of blood cells and a fluid called plasma. Plasma carries red and
white blood cells and platelets. Each part of blood has a special function. These
parts can be separated from each other. Bone marrow, the soft, spongy material in
the center of the bones, makes most of the body's blood cells. Here is a look at each
part of the blood, and why it might be transfused:
Red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen from your lungs to other body organs. They also carry carbon
dioxide back to the lungs to be breathed out (exhaled). The body needs a certain number
of these cells to work well. Bleeding due to injury, surgery, or disease may cause
a low red blood cell count. This is the most common type of transfusion.
White blood cells. These cells fight infections by destroying bacteria, viruses, and other germs. White
blood cells are rarely transfused. They are often set aside as a short-term (temporary)
treatment for people with a low white cell count and severe infection that has not
responded to antibiotics.
Platelets. These tiny cells in your blood help form clots and stop bleeding. Your body may not
make enough platelets. This might be from bone marrow disorders, increased destruction
of platelets, or medicines such as chemotherapy. Platelets may be transfused before
surgery or anytime the platelet count is very low and you are at risk for bleeding.
Plasma. This fluid carries the blood cells all over the body. It contains proteins, vitamins,
and minerals. Some of the proteins also help blood to clot. Plasma or fresh frozen
plasma can be transfused in people who severely lack certain parts of the blood that
help with clotting.
What are the risks of a blood transfusion?
Most hospitals use blood from volunteer donors. These donors are not paid for giving
blood or blood products. Each blood donor must answer medical history questions and
have a limited physical exam before being accepted as a donor. Donated blood is carefully
tested, which lowers the chances of transfusion-related infections. Donated blood
is tested for:
Hepatitis viruses B and C
Human T-lymphotropic viruses (HTLV) I and II
West Nile virus
Chagas disease, caused by a parasite
Most transfusions are done without any problems. Mild side effects can often be treated
with medicine if you need more transfusions. Mild side effects may include symptoms
of an allergic reaction, such as:
Serious side effects are rare. They may include:
Other types of blood donation
In addition to general volunteer blood donations, there are 2 other types of blood
Directed blood donation. This is when friends or family donate blood for a certain person. This blood is set
aside for that person’s use. This type of donation requires a prescription and must
be scheduled in advance. Direct blood donations go through the same testing as other
volunteer donations. If the person does not use this donated blood, it may be made
available for someone else.
Donating blood for yourself (autologous donation). This is your blood that you donate for your own use. It's set aside and can be transfused
back into your own body if needed for a later, planned surgery. This type of donation
requires a prescription from your provider and is scheduled in advance. It does not
go through the same testing as other blood donations. If you don’t use the blood,
it's thrown away.
How do I get ready for a blood transfusion?
No special preparation is needed before a blood transfusion.
What happens during a blood transfusion?
A blood transfusion may occur as part of your hospitalization. Or it may be done as
an outpatient. This means you go home the same day.
Blood is collected and stored in germ-free (sterile) bags. The bags are used once
and then thrown away.
Before blood is given to you, it's cross-matched with your own blood to make sure
The blood will be given through a needle or thin tube (catheter) placed in a vein.
Your temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate will be checked many times while
the blood is being given.
It may take a few hours to complete the process.
What happens after a blood transfusion?
After you have received the blood as requested by your healthcare provider, the IV
that was placed in your arm will be removed and you will be discharged.
You will be able to go back to your normal activities, unless your healthcare provider
has made other recommendations.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
The name of the test or procedure
The reason you are having the test or procedure
What results to expect and what they mean
The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
What the possible side effects or complications are
When and where you are to have the test or procedure
Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
When and how will you get the results
Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure