Here is some information about blood and blood transfusions. If you have any other questions of concerns, please contact your doctor.
What is normally present in blood?
Red blood cells – contain hemoglobin and carry oxygen to all parts of the body
White blood cells – fight infection
Platelets – prevent bleeding
Plasma – helps prevent bleeding
What is a transfusion?
Blood from a donor can be divided into red blood cells, platelets, plasma and substances in plasma such as albumin and clotting factors. A transfusion occurs when you receive a particular blood product through a tube which is hooked up to a vein in your arm or other suitable area of the body.
Where does the blood used for transfusion come from?
Blood is collected from healthy volunteer donors. When blood is donated, it is tested for the following:
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
- HIV-1 and HIV-2 (the virus which causes AIDS)
- HTLV-I and HTLV-II (Human T-cell Lymphotrophic Virus, types 1 and 2)
- West Nile Virus
Blood is NOT used if there are any concerns it may transmit disease.
Why are transfusions necessary?
They are needed to replace certain blood products that are at low levels in your blood. Blood carries oxygen to your body, fights infections and controls bleeding. You need to have proper levels of the different blood products in your blood. Your doctor can explain what blood products you need and why.
What happens to you during a transfusion?
You will be watched closely; your temperature, blood pressure and pulse will be checked as needed. The transfusion may take from a few minutes to hours. It depends on what product you are getting. Some patients have mild reactions to a transfusion such as fever and itching which can be treated. More serious reactions can occur and the transfusion may have to be stopped.
What are your risks when having a transfusion?
Transfusions are generally a very safe treatment. But there are some risks. Infectious risks include the risk of transmitting a viral or bacterial infection. Non-infectious risks include allergic reactions and breakdown of red blood cells.
Remember that the risks of getting ill from a transfusion are very small. As with many treatments, blood can never be completely risk-free. You and your doctor must discuss if the benefits of a blood transfusion outweigh the risk of not having one.
What Options do you have?
The following options may or may not be for you:
Donating your own blood. For certain non-urgent operations, you may be able to donate your own blood for future use. This must be arranged by your doctor well in advance of your surgery.
Before surgery, your blood may be removed and replaced with fluid. After your surgery, your blood is transfused back to you.
Blood lost during surgery may be recycled and transfused back to you.
Certain types of anemia (low red blood cells) may be corrected by medication, such as iron therapy or Vitamin B12. These stimulate the body to produce red cells, but need some time to work.
Can a transfusion be refused?
In an emergency, your doctor will decide whether you require a transfusion and what type of blood product to use. If your transfusion is not an emergency, then you may wish to discuss it with your doctor.
A competent person may refuse or stop treatment. If you refuse based on religious beliefs or any other reason, you must inform you doctor. Refusing a blood product does have risks. Ask your doctor to discuss these risks with you.