What are the potential benefits of a blood transfusion?

If your body does not have enough of one of the components of blood, you may develop serious life-threatening complications.

  • Red blood cells carry oxygen through your body to your heart and brain. Adequate oxygen is very important to maintain life.
  • Platelets help to prevent or control bleeding due to low platelet count.
  • Plasma and cryoprecipitate, replacement coagulation factors, also help to prevent or control bleeding.

How safe are blood transfusions?

Blood donors are asked many questions about their health, behavior, and travel history in order to ensure that the blood supply is as safe as it can be. Only people who pass the survey are allowed to donate. Donated blood is tested according to national guidelines. If there is any question that the blood is not safe, it is thrown away.

However, there is still a very small chance that something will go undetected in the screening process. To put this in perspective, let's look at your chances of getting a disease from a blood transfusion:

  • HIV: 1 in 1.5 million donations
  • Hepatitis C: 1 in 1.2 million donations
  • Hepatitis B: 1 in 293,000 donations

For comparison, let's look at your lifetime odds for a few other things:

  • Struck by lightning: 1 in 700,000
  • Deadly plane crash: 1 in 500,000
  • Accidental drowning: 1 in 80,000
  • Deadly car accident: 1 in 5,000

Additional transfusion risks and reactions:

  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Respiratory distress due to fluid overload (Transfusion-Associated Circulatory Overload), or injury to the lungs (Transfusion-Related Acute Lung Injury)
  • Bacterial contamination
  • Fever, chills, rash
  • Hemolytic transfusion reaction (an immune reaction where antibodies lead to destruction of transfused red blood cells)
  • Mistransfusion (human error leading to the transfusion of the wrong product)

The most common reactions are mild allergic or febrile reactions, and are not life-threatening. Severe transfusion reactions, such as those causing respiratory distress, may be life-threatening.

How do I know if I am having a reaction during the transfusion?

A reaction can occur during a transfusion, up to a day following the transfusion, or even up to several months after the transfusion. Your nurse will watch you closely for a reaction. If a reaction occurs, the transfusion will be stopped.

During your transfusion, please let your nurse know immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Bleeding, pain, or new bruising at the IV site
  • Severe back pain
  • Fever, chills
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Rash, hives, itching
  • Headache, dizziness
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Chest pain
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Trouble breathing, wheezing
  • Dark or reddish urine

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