Blood Transfusion

What is Blood Transfusion

Blood transfusion is a procedure in which you are given blood through an IV tube. You may need this procedure because of:

  • Illness.
  • Surgery.
  • Injury.

The blood may come from someone else (a donor). You may also be able to donate blood for yourself (autologous blood donation). The blood given in a transfusion is made up of different types of cells. You may get:

  • Red blood cells. These carry oxygen to the cells in the body.
  • White blood cells. These help you fight infections.
  • Platelets. These help your blood to clot.
  • Plasma. This is the liquid part of your blood. It helps with fluid imbalances.

If you have a clotting disorder, you may also get other types of blood products.

Blood Transfusions

Why is a blood transfusion important?

A blood transfusion is one of the most common medical procedures for people of all ages. It involves adding blood previously donated from one person to another. You may need a transfusion for surgery, to replace blood lost from a serious injury (such as a car accident), or to help manage certain medical conditions. A blood transfusion involves the use of a small needle and intravenous (IV) line. The needle is inserted into your blood vessel in order to transfer the blood you need. The procedure usually takes 1 to 4 hours. Before your transfusion, your health care team will confirm your blood type and the donated blood type to make sure they match.

Donated blood is typically collected and stored in a blood bank. Blood donations also can take place in a hospital or clinic lab. It is possible to donate your blood for your own use at a later time. This is called an autologous blood transfusion. It can be used for an upcoming surgery. (It takes four to six weeks to store enough of your blood for most surgeries. Your doctor can recommend how many units you’ll need. He or she will also estimate the time to rebuild your red blood cell count between each donation.) Your blood can’t be used in an unplanned situation, such as an emergency.

Donating blood to a friend or family member is called a directed blood donation. A directed blood transfusion also must be planned four to six weeks in advance of that person’s need.

Path to better health

Most blood transfusions go smoothly and are successful. In most cases, strict blood donation screening, eligibility, and blood-type rules lead to a healthy outcome. A health care provider will check your temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate after the transfusion.

Blood tests can check your body’s reaction to the transfusion. The tests look at the health of your kidneys, liver, thyroid, heart, and overall health. The tests also check that the blood is clotting properly and how well any medicine you are taking is working.

Possible mild complications:

  • Soreness where the needle was inserted.

Possible allergic reactions:

  • Low blood pressure, feeling nauseous, a rapid pulse, breathing difficulties, anxiety, and chest or back pain.

Rare, more serious complications:

  • Fever the day of the transfusion.
  • Liver damage from getting too much iron.
  • Unexplained lung damage within the first six hours of the procedure (in patients who were seriously ill before the transfusion).
  • A serious or delayed reaction if you are given the wrong blood type or if your body attacks the red blood cells in the donated blood.
  • Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), in which white blood cells from the donated blood attack the tissue in your body.

Things to consider about a blood transfusion

Blood transfusions are considered safe because of the strict screening, eligibility, and blood type rules established for blood donations.

Many people worry about receiving blood that carries infections or viruses, such as hepatitis B and C, HIV, or variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (a fatal brain disorder, which is the human version of Mad Cow Disease). Although these infections and viruses can be spread through a blood transfusion, the risk of getting them is extremely low.

Criteria varies by state, but generally, blood donors must be at least 17 years old, weigh a minimum of 110 pounds, and be in good health on the day of the donation. Donors also must answer a confidential health questionnaire that screens for possible disease, lifestyle, health, medical history, and travel risks. For example, if a person recently traveled to an area with a Zika epidemic, they would not be allowed to donate blood until a certain amount of time has passed. This same questionnaire would be used to evaluate a person’s lifestyle, including whether the donor was at a higher risk for having HIV/AIDS. Blood donors may not be able to donate based on their answers to the questions. Multiple lab tests will check for infectious diseases and viruses.

Questions for your doctor

  • How safe is the blood supply in U.S. blood banks?
  • If I’m traveling outside of the United States, is there anything I need to know about blood donations or the blood supply?
  • If I choose an autologous or directed blood donation, how many months in advance do I need to plan?

What happens before the procedure?

  • You will have a blood test to find out your blood type. The test also finds out what type of blood your body will accept and matches it to the donor type.
  • If you are going to have a planned surgery, you may be able to donate your own blood. This may be done in case you need a transfusion.
  • If you have had an allergic reaction to a transfusion in the past, you may be given medicine to help prevent a reaction. This medicine may be given to you by mouth or through an IV.
  • You will have your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse checked.
  • Follow instructions from your doctor about what you cannot eat or drink.
  • Ask your doctor about:
    • Changing or stopping your regular medicines. This is important if you take diabetes medicines or blood thinners.
    • Taking medicines such as aspirin and ibuprofen. These medicines can thin your blood.Do nottake these medicines before your procedure if your doctor tells you not to.

What happens during the procedure?

  • An IV tube will be put into one of your veins.
  • The bag of donated blood will be attached to your IV tube. Then, the blood will enter through your vein.
  • Your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse will be checked regularly during the procedure. This is done to find early signs of a transfusion reaction.
  • If you have any signs or symptoms of a reaction, your transfusion will be stopped. You may also be given medicine.
  • When the transfusion is done, your IV tube will be taken out.
  • Pressure may be applied to the IV site for a few minutes.
  • A bandage (dressing) will be put on the IV site.

The procedure may vary among doctors and hospitals.

What happens after the procedure?

  • Your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood oxygen level will be checked often.
  • Your blood may be tested to see how you are responding to the transfusion.
  • You may be warmed with fluids or blankets. This is done to keep the temperature of your body normal.

Summary

  • A blood transfusion is a procedure in which you are given blood through an IV tube.
  • The blood may come from someone else (a donor). You may also be able to donate blood for yourself.
  • If you have had an allergic reaction to a transfusion in the past, you may be given medicine to help prevent a reaction. This medicine may be given to you by mouth or through an IV tube.
  • Your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood oxygen level will be checked often.
  • Your blood may be tested to see how you are responding to the transfusion.

Blood Transfusion, Adult, Care After

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your doctor.
  • Go back to your normal activities as told by your doctor.
  • Follow instructions from your doctor about how to take care of the area where an IV tube was put into your vein (insertion site). Make sure you:
    • Wash your hands with soap and water before you change your bandage (dressing). If there is no soap and water, use hand sanitizer.
    • Change your bandage as told by your doctor.

Check your IV insertion site every day for signs of infection. Check for:

  • More redness, swelling, or pain.
  • More fluid or blood.
  • Warmth.
  • Pus or a bad smell.

Contact a doctor if:

  • You have more redness, swelling, or pain around the IV insertion site..
  • You have more fluid or blood coming from the IV insertion site.
  • Your IV insertion site feels warm to the touch.
  • You have pus or a bad smell coming from the IV insertion site.
  • Your pee (urine) turns pink, red, or brown.
  • You feel weak after doing your normal activities.

Get help right away if:

  • You have signs of a serious allergic or body defense (immune) system reaction, including:
    • Itchiness.
    • Hives.
    • Trouble breathing.
    • Anxiety.
    • Pain in your chest or lower back.
    • Fever, flushing, and chills.
    • Fast pulse.
    • Rash.
    • Watery poop (diarrhea).
    • Throwing up (vomiting).
    • Dark pee.
    • Serious headache.
    • Dizziness.
    • Stiff neck.
    • Yellow color in your face or the white parts of your eyes (jaundice).

Summary

  • After a blood transfusion, return to your normal activities as told by your doctor.
  • Every day, check for signs of infection where the IV tube was put into your vein.
  • Some signs of infection are warm skin, more redness and pain, more fluid or blood, and pus or a bad smell where the needle went in.
  • Contact your doctor if you feel weak or have any unusual symptoms.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Blood Safety  

Red Cross, Blood Donations  

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