Blood Transfusion

1 What is a Blood Transfusion?

A blood transfusion is a routine, lifesaving procedure. During this procedure, donated blood is added to your own.

A blood transfusion can also be done to supplement various components of your blood with donated blood products.

There are some cases in which a blood transfusion is done with blood that you have donated ahead of time before you can undergo elective surgery.

During a typical blood transfusion, certain parts are delivered through an intravenous line that is placed in one of your veins in your arm.

A blood transfusion usually takes a period of one to four hours to be complete, though it can be done much faster in emergencies.

A blood transfusion boosts levels of blood that low, either because your body is not making enough or you have lost blood because of surgery, injury or a disease.

2 Reasons for Procedure

People receive blood transfusions for many reasons, including surgery, injury, bleeding and disease. Blood has several components, including red cells, white cells, plasma, and platelets.

You'll receive a transfusion that provides the part or parts of the blood that will be most helpful for you. Whole blood means the blood contains all its parts.

But it is not common to use whole blood for a transfusion. Researchers are working on ways to develop an artificial blood. So far, no good replacement for human blood is available.

Surgery, injury or anemia. If you lose blood due to surgery or injury, you may experience anemia. You may require a transfusion of packed red blood cells, which means the blood you receive contains a concentration of mostly red blood cells.

This type of transfusion is also done for people who have anemia related to other conditions. Gastrointestinal bleeding Bleeding from ulcers, enlarged veins (varies) or other conditions of the digestive tract can be life-threatening.

Blood transfusions can be lifesaving. Cancer may decrease your body's production of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets by impacting the organs that influence blood counts, such as the kidneys, bone marrow, and the spleen.

Radiation and chemotherapy drugs also can decrease components of the blood. Blood transfusions may be used to counter such effects.

Other illness. Some illnesses cause your body to make too few platelets or clotting factors. You may need transfusions of just those blood components to make up for low levels.

Infection, liver failure or severe burns If you experience an infection, liver failure or severe burns, you may need a transfusion of plasma. Plasma is the liquid part of blood.

Blood disorders. People with blood diseases may receive transfusions of red blood cells, platelets or clotting factors.

Severe liver malfunction. If you have severe liver problems, you may receive a transfusion of albumin, a blood protein.

3 Potential Risks

In general, blood transfusions are considered safe. However, they can carry potential risks.

These risks can be listed as follows:

Allergic reaction and hives. In cases where you have an allergic reaction to the transfusion, you may experience  hives and itching during the procedure or very soon after. This condition is usually treated with histamines.

Fever. If you rapidly develop a fever during a blood transfusion you may be having a febrile transfusion reaction. A febrile reaction can also happen shortly after the reaction.

Acute immune hemolytic reaction. This a very uncommon but serious transfusion reaction in which your body attacks the transfused red blood cells because the donor blood type is not a perfect match. In response, your immune system attacks the transfused red blood cells, which are viewed as foreign.

Lung injury. Transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI) is thought to occur due to antibodies or other biologic substances in the blood components. With TRALI, the lungs are damaged and breathing becomes very difficult to execute.

Bloodborne infections. Blood banks screen donors for risk factors and test donated blood to reduce the risk of transfusion-related infections. Infections related to the blood transfusion may still rarely occur.

The National Institute of Health offers the following estimates for the risk of blood donation carrying an infectious disease:

  • HIV- 1 in 2 million donations.
  • Hepatitis B - 1 in 205 000 donations.
  • Hepatitis C - 1 in 2 million donations.

Delayed hemolytic reaction. This reaction is similar to an acute hemolytic reaction, but  it occurs slower. Your body gradually attacks  the donor red blood cells. It could take a period of one to four weeks to notice a decrease in red blood cell levels.

Iron overload. If you receive multiple blood transfusions, you may end up with too much iron in your blood. Iron overload (hemochromatosis) can damage parts of your body, including the liver and the heart.

Graft-versus-host disease. Transfusion-associated graft-versus-host disease is a very rare condition in which transfused white blood cells attack the  recipient's bone marrow. This disease is usually fatal. It is more likely to affect people with weak immune systems, such as those treated for leukemia or lymphoma.

4 Preparing for your Procedure

To prepare for the procedure your blood will be tested before a transfusion in order to determine whether your blood type is A,B,AB or O and whether it is Rh positive or Rh negative.

The donated blood used for your transfusion must be compatible with your own. There is no need of making any changes to your activity levels before a transfusion.

If you have had a reaction to prior blood transfusions, be sure to tell your doctor.

5 What to Expect

Read on to learn more about what to expect before, during, and after your blood transfusion.

Blood transfusions must be done at a hospital, an outpatient clinic or a doctor's office. A blood transfusion typically takes one to four hours, this depends on which parts of the body you receive and how much blood is required.

You are usually seated or lying down for the procedure. During the procedure. Before the transfusion commences, an identification check will be done to make sure that you are receiving the correct blood.

After this check, an IV line with a needle is inserted into one of your blood vessels. The donated blood that is being stored in a plastic bag enters your bloodstream through the IV. A nurse with the monitor you throughout the procedure.

Inform your nurse as soon as you develop the following conditions:

After the procedure. The needle and IV line will be removed. You may develop a small bruise around the I site, but this always goes away with time.

6 Procedure Results

If you do not understand your blood transfusion results, consult with your doctor.

You may need further blood testing to see how your body is responding to the donor blood and to check if your blood counts have reached an appropriate level.

For instance, if you were anaemic before the transfusion, meaning you had low levels of red blood cells, the doctor will check to see how much of the transfusion raised your red blood cell count.

Or, if you have had low platelets because of chemotherapy drugs, your doctor may test your blood to see whether the transfusion sufficiently boosted your platelet count.

Some conditions require repeated blood transfusions.

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