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Blood Transfusion

 

Definition

A blood transfusion is the delivery of blood through a vein. The blood may come from an unrelated or related donor.

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

 

Reasons for Procedure    TOP

A blood transfusion should help increase your level of blood cells or other specific blood products. It may be needed if you have:

  • Blood and fluid loss due to injury, surgery, or disease
  • Severe anemia
  • Bleeding disorders, such as von Willebrand disease or hemophilia
  • Poor immune system
  • Leukemia
  • Diseases that result in destruction of blood cells or bone marrow
  • Side effects of certain medications such as chemotherapy for cancer
 

Possible Complications    TOP

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Severe reactions due to allergies, volume overload, iron build up, and the mismatching of blood types. Hospitals have several steps to make sure blood is correctly matched.
  • Certain infections such as hepatitis or HIV, can be passed on during blood transfusions. There are many steps and tests that are done to thoroughly check donated blood before anyone is allowed to receive it.
 

What to Expect    TOP

Prior to Procedure

  • You will have a blood test to determine your specific blood type. The donor blood will be carefully matched to your blood type.
  • You may also be given a physical exam. Your vital signs, including your temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, will be recorded.
  • You may be given medications before you receive a transfusion. These drugs will help reduce any minor allergic reactions.

Description of the Procedure

You will need to be seated. A bag containing the 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 slowly from the bag through a tube into your vein. After the bag of blood product is empty, the needle in your arm will be removed.

Common IV Placement

IV arm

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Throughout the transfusion, your vital signs will be checked regularly. You will also be asked about pain, itching, or discomfort. Most reactions occur early in a blood transfusion, so you will be monitored more closely during the first 15 minutes.

How Long Will It Take?    TOP

About 2–4 hours

Will It Hurt?    TOP

The placement of the IV needle is uncomfortable. After the needle is in place, it should not cause pain.

Post-procedure Care    TOP

At the Care Center

Immediately following your procedure, the staff may:

  • Monitor you closely.
  • Give you pecific instructions based on your overall condition.
  • Order blood tests to determine how effective the transfusion was.

At Home

When you return home after the transfusion, carefully follow your doctor’s advice regarding any activity restrictions or other instructions.

 

Call Your Doctor    TOP

Call your doctor if any of these occur:

  • New rash, hives, or itching
  • Swelling in legs, feet, hands, arms, or face
  • Lightheadedness
  • Persistent nausea or vomiting
  • New onset of pain, especially in the back or chest
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing
  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge where the needle was inserted

If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services 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 March 23, 2018.

Hladik W, Dollard SC, Mermin J, et al. Transmission of human herpesvirus 8 by blood transfusion. N Engl J Med. 2006;355(13):1331-1338.

Posthouwer D, Fischer K, van Erpecum KJ, Mauser-Bunschoten EP.. The natural history of childhood-acquired hepatitis C infection in patients with inherited bleeding disorders. Transfusion. 2006;46(8):1360-1366.

Red blood cell transfusion. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T909621/Red-blood-cell-transfusion . Updated December 19, 2017. Accessed March 23, 2018.

The process. American Red Cross website. Available at: https://www.redcrossblood.org/learn-about-blood/blood-transfusions/the-process. Accessed March 23, 2018.



Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 5/1/2014

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