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Definition

A blood transfusion is when blood is given through a vein. The blood comes from a donor.

For planned procedures, some people have their blood drawn at an earlier date and stored until the transfusion is needed.

Reasons for Procedure

A blood transfusion raises the level of blood cells or other specific blood products. It may be given for:

  • Blood and fluid loss due to injury, surgery, or disease
  • Severe anemia
  • Bleeding problems, such as von Willebrand disease or hemophilia
  • Immune system problems
  • Leukemia
  • Diseases that destroy blood cells or bone marrow

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Mismatching of blood types
  • Iron build up
  • Infections that can be passed through blood such as hepatitis or HIV (rare due to blood screening methods)

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

A blood test will be done to find your blood type. The donor blood will be matched to your blood type.

Allergy medicine may be given before the transfusion. This will lower the risk of a reaction.

Description of the Procedure

You will be seated. A bag with blood product will be hung nearby. An IV needle will be placed into a vein in your hand or arm. The blood product will drip from the bag through the tube into your vein. The needle will be taken out when the bag is empty.

Common IV Placement
IV arm

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How Long Will It Take?

About 2 to 4 hours

Will It Hurt?

Discomfort is common at the needle insertion site. It will go away quickly.

Post-procedure Care

At the Care Center

After the procedure, the staff may:

  • Watch you closely
  • Order blood tests to see how well the transfusion worked

At Home

Most people are able to resume normal activity levels.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • New rash, hives, or itching
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing
  • Swelling in legs, feet, hands, arms, or face
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • New pain, especially in the back or chest
  • Redness, swelling, excess bleeding, or discharge where the needle was inserted
  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

American Association of Blood Banks
http://www.aabb.org

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Blood Services
https://blood.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Blood transfusion. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/blood-transfusion. Accessed January 12, 2021.

Blood transfusion process. American Red Cross website. Available at: https://www.redcrossblood.org/learn-about-blood/blood-transfusions/the-process. Accessed January 12, 2021.

Goel R, Chappidi M, et. al. Trends in red blood cell, plasma, and platelet transfusions in the United States, 1993-2014. JAMA. 2018;319(8):825-827.

Red blood cell transfusion. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/procedure/red-blood-cell-transfusion. Accessed January 12, 2021.

Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 1/12/2021