Blood Transfusion

In this Article

What is a blood transfusion?

A blood transfusion [trans-FYOO-zhuhn] is the transfer of human blood or parts of blood into a patient’s bloodstream, usually through a vein. A blood transfusion replaces blood lost during surgery or a serious accident. You may need a blood transfusion if you have a medical condition in which your body does not produce enough of certain parts of blood. In either case, a doctor may order a transfusion of 1 or more components of blood.

Blood parts that may be transfused include:

  • Red blood cells: Cells in the blood that carry oxygen
  • Plasma [PLAZ-muh]: Liquid part of the blood that carries important clotting factors and other substances
  • Platelets [PLEYT-lits]: Parts of the blood that help it to clot

Blood transfusions are low risk, but may have some mild side effects, like allergic reactions or a fever. These side effects are usually treatable with medicine.

It’s important to have the right type of blood transfused. There are four blood types. Each can be positive or negative. The four blood types include:

  • A
  • B
  • AB
  • O

Transfusing the wrong kind of blood can make you sick. Type O blood is safe for everyone to use. People with this type are called “universal donors.”

What are the risks and/or side effects?

What are the risks?

Donated blood is tested for blood-related diseases to prevent them from being transferred. Those diseases include:

  • Hepatitis B and C
  • HIV
  • Syphilis [SIF-uh-lis] 
  • Chagas [SHAH-guhs] disease
  • West Nile Virus
  • HTLV I and II

In some rare cases, a transfusion reaction can occur even if the blood transfused is the right type. Transfusion with the wrong type of blood can be fatal, but medical workers always check blood multiple times to make sure it’s the right type.

What Are the Side Effects?

There may be some mild side effects of a blood transfusion. Those include:

  • Headache
  • Itching
  • Rash
  • Fever

These symptoms can be treated with medicine.

Rarer and more serious side effects may include:

  • Having a hard time breathing
  • Pain in the chest
  • Blood pressure dropping

If you have these symptoms, contact your doctor.

What are the benefits?

Blood transfusions can replace the parts of blood that have been lost in an injury or during surgery. Blood is a vital fluid in your body, and losing too much can be fatal. Transfusions put the different parts of blood back into your system to keep you healthy.

How do I prepare?

You don’t need to do anything to prepare for a transfusion.

How is it done or administered?

How Is Blood Transfusion Done?

Blood is usually transfused through an IV placed in your vein. The doctor or nurse puts a small tube called a catheter [KATH-ih-ter] into a vein, usually in your arm. The catheter connects to the pack of donor blood. A blood transfusion usually takes between 1 and 3 hours, depending on how much blood is needed.

Where Does the Blood Come From?

The blood in a blood transfusion comes from another person, called a donor. There are different kinds, or parts, of blood that may be transfused. Each part of the blood has its own purpose. For that reason, there are different reasons each part of blood may need to be transfused.

There are four different parts.

  • Red blood cells keep oxygen moving from your lungs out to your cells and carbon dioxide back to your lungs to be breathed out. If you bleed a lot during an injury or during surgery, you may need to have the red blood cells returned in a transfusion. This is the most common kind of blood transfusion.
  • White blood cells keep you healthy by fighting bacteria and viruses (germs). White blood cells aren’t transfused very often, but if you have a low white cell count or a severe infection, you may have a white blood cell transfusion.
  • Platelets help blood to clot. If you have a disease or a treatment that reduces your platelet count, you may have a platelet transfusion.
  • Plasma makes up most of your blood. It contains proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Plasma transfusions, from both fresh and frozen plasma, can be given to people who don’t have the parts of blood that help with clotting.

When will I know the results?

As soon as the transfusion is over your vital signs will be checked, and the IV will be removed. The results can be felt right away.

What are follow-up requirements and options?

Your healthcare provider may do blood tests to check how well the transfusion went. If there are any other symptoms after the transfusion that may be related to it, report them to your doctor.