If you needed a blood transfusion, the ideal blood donor might be you.
For several weeks before elective surgery, you can donate your own blood. This practice is called preoperative autologous donation (PAD), and it is an alternative to transfusing blood from the community blood supply (called allogeneic transfusion).
If you are healthy enough to undergo elective surgery, PAD is probably safe. Age will not rule you out, but an infection or low hemoglobin count will. PAD may be advised if there is a high possibility of an incompatibility reaction to allogeneic blood, which can happen if your blood carries antibodies that will attack the donated blood cells.
The body may have an immune reaction to donated blood. Such transfusion reactions are usually mild and might include chills, fever, backache, and hives; but more serious complications can also occur. Fortunately, the careful matching of blood that occurs before elective surgery makes these reactions rare, so if you cannot give your own blood, do not worry.
You may donate 1 unit per week but no more than 1 unit every 3 days. If you need 4 units or less, donation should start 3 to 4 weeks before surgery. If you need more units, donation should occur several months before. A donation center may need to be contacted regarding freezing red blood cells.
Because you are giving blood to yourself, you do not have to pass the strict screening required of volunteers. You will need a doctor's prescription, which you will take to the blood center.
Here is what you can expect:
Allogeneic (other donor) blood transfusion is safe. There are rigorous tests and multiple safeguards to make blood safe for transfusion from donor to recipient.
There is testing called nucleic acid amplification testing or NAT. Unlike blood tests that detect infections like HIV or hepatitis C only after someone develops antibodies, NAT detects genetic materials of the viruses themselves. This increases the likelihood of detecting tainted blood from a donor who is newly infected.
A number of other safeguards are in place:
Before a transfusion, samples of the recipient's blood and donated blood are combined to test for negative reactions, a procedure called crossmatching.
There are 2 transfusion options that make use of your own blood that involve procedures done right in the operating room. One is called intraoperative blood salvage, a practice usually seen in vascular and cardiac surgery. During this procedure, the blood lost during surgery is washed and reinfused.
Hemodilution is another option. Several units of blood are removed and replaced with a protein or sugar solution. At the end of the surgery, your own blood is reinfused.
Directed donations from friends or family can be an option, but you should avoid choosing people who are not regular blood donors. Otherwise, you are probably better off using allogeneic blood whose donors have undergone testing many times.
Contact your hospital's blood donation center for specific information. Also check with your health insurance to find out if blood donation is covered in your policy.
American Association of Blood Banks
American Red Cross
Canadian Blood Services
Canadian Red Cross
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Iron info for frequent donors. American Red Cross website. Available at: http://www.redcrossblood.org/learn-about-blood/iron-and-blood-donation/iron-info-frequent-donors. Accessed July 19, 2016.
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Last reviewed July 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 10/15/2014