Transfusion Therapy Overview
A blood transfusion is when you receive blood via an
intravenous (IV) line. Blood transfusions are sometimes necessary after an
injury or surgery causes a high amount of blood loss. Some people need regular
transfusions due to medical conditions such as hemophilia or cancer. This is
called transfusion therapy. In some cases, a permanent IV can be put in place.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
(NHLBI), about five million Americans need a blood transfusion each year (NHLBI, 2012).
Prior to any blood transfusion, laboratory tests must ensure
that donor blood is compatible with the patient’s. Transfusion therapy can take
place in a hospital or outpatient transfusion center.
Donated blood is thoroughly screened for infectious agents
and other factors that may put you at risk. Although serious complications can
happen, the procedure is considered safe.
Who Needs Transfusion Therapy?
Sometimes, illness can make it difficult for your body to
produce healthy blood. Some conditions that may require transfusion therapy
- kidney disease
- liver disease
- severe infection
- sickle cell disease
Preparing for Transfusion Therapy
Serious complications can occur if donor and patient blood
are not compatible. You’ll need a simple blood draw, after which the sample
will be sent for laboratory testing.
Tell your doctor if you take dietary supplements containing
iron. You may be asked to sign papers consenting to transfusion therapy. If
possible, ask questions prior to the day of the procedure.
Transfusion therapy can take place
in a hospital or an outpatient center. If you don’t have a permanent IV, a line
will be inserted into one of your blood vessels. Your provider will confirm
your identity and cross-check the blood you are about to receive.
You may receive a mild medication to
reduce side effects. Your vital signs will be checked and monitored. Generally,
you will be free to move around during the transfusion, as long as you are
careful not to disturb the IV. Blood will flow from a bag into the line for one
to four hours.
Most people are able to resume
normal activities soon after the procedure. Ask your doctor for aftercare
instructions specific to your condition.
Risks and Side Effects
It is extremely important that compatible blood is used. If
not, your immune system will attack the donor blood. This can be a
Although there is some risk, strict precautionary measures decrease
the risk of transmitting infection or disease. According to the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), transmitting infection through blood
transfusion is rare in the U.S. (CDC, 2013).
Some people have a transfusion reaction following the
procedure. Symptoms are generally mild and may include:
- back, chest, or muscle pain
- coughing, wheezing
- itching, rash
reaction is when side effects occur days or even weeks later. Sometimes,
this includes dark-colored urine. Be sure to report side effects to your doctor
immediately. Medication taken prior to a transfusion can cut down on side
Ongoing transfusion therapy can cause iron overload in some
patients. Excess iron is stored in the liver, pancreas, endocrine glands, and
heart, and can damage vital organs. Careful monitoring can tell your doctor if
your body is storing too much iron. Prescriptions medications called chelations
can help your body get rid of iron.
We have different blood types according to the antigens in
our blood cells. There are four main blood groups: O, A, B, and AB.
We also have a substance called “Rh factor” in our red blood
cells. Those who have it are “Rh positive;” those who don’t are “Rh negative.”
This is why your blood type is referred to as, “O positive,” or “B negative.”
The antigens plus the Rh factor make up eight blood types.
What blood type you can receive depends on whether you need plasma, red blood
cells, or whole blood.
Even though we don’t all have the same blood type, our blood
is made up of the same components.
Components of Blood
Blood is made up of solid and liquid parts. The solid part
contains red and white blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells transport
oxygen. White blood cells help fight infection. Platelets help your blood clot.
The liquid part is called plasma. It contains water,
proteins, and salts.
You may only need certain parts of blood. For example,
people with sickle cell disease may only need red blood cells. Someone with
leukemia may require platelets transfusions.