If You Need a Blood Transfusion
What is a Blood Transfusion?
Your doctor believes that you may need a blood transfusion. During a transfusion, blood is given to you through an IV (intravenous) or central catheter line. Transfusions are given to replace blood that can be lost during injury or surgery. They are also given to help build up your blood levels when they are low. This can result from chemotherapy and other drugs or with certain diseases.
Blood can be given "whole," but most often one or more parts of the blood are transfused. The most common blood parts are red cells, platelets, plasma and cryoprecipitate. The parts of the blood you receive depend on your needs.
- Red Cells carry oxygen from your lungs to the tissues of your body. Without enough red cells, you may become anemic and need a red cell transfusion.
- Platelets help to clot blood and stop bleeding. Surgical patients sometimes need platelets to stop bleeding. Cancer patients often need platelets to prevent bleeding.
- Plasma also plays large role in blood clotting. If you are bleeding and have low levels of clotting factors, you may need a plasma transfusion.
- Cryoprecipitate is given to control bleeding in persons who have low blood levels of one or more of the clotting factors.
Is the Blood Supply Safe?
The Blood Centers in our region maintain a safe blood supply. They screen donors and test the blood to be sure it is safe for use.
- Donor Screening
Before giving blood, donors are asked many questions about their health history. These questions help to screen out those persons who may be at risk of spreading diseases carried through blood.
- Extensive Testing
The blood and blood products you receive are carefully prepared and tested for most known diseases that can be carried through blood. Today, greater than 10 tests are done on each blood donation. The tests are used to check blood type and to screen for diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis and syphilis.
What are the Risks?
With our blood supplier, we aim to make our blood transfusions as safe as possible. Blood that you receive has been closely prepared and tested. Most blood products are given without any problems. Yet, transfusions are not risk-free. Some complications can occur.
- Minor Reactions
During or right after a transfusion, you might notice hives, a rash, itching, fever or chills. These reactions may annoy you, but they are seldom serious. Nurses and doctors watch for these signs. If a serious reaction like difficulty breathing occurs, your doctor and nurse will respond quickly. If you have had a transfusion and/or a reaction before, please tell your doctor before you get any blood.
- Serious Problems
Getting a disease from a blood transfusion is highly unlikely. Yet, it is possible. The most serious of the diseases carried through blood are:
Hepatitis B & C - diseases of the liver. Your chance of getting hepatitis after a transfusion is very low--about 1 per 250,000 - 500,000 units transfused for Hepatitis B and 1 per 2,000,000 units transfused for Hepatitis C. If Hepatitis B occurs, it is often mild and patients recover. Yet, Hepatitis B & C can become chronic.
AIDS - a disease caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The virus travels through blood and destroys the body's disease fighting system. It can cause serious illness and death. Since early in 1985, all blood donors have been tested for evidence they carry or are infected with HIV. Because of careful screening and testing, the risk of getting AIDS through blood transfusions is quite small. The risk is about 1 per 2,000,000 units transfused.
What are My Choices?
If your doctor tells you that you may need a transfusion, there are some options. Not all choices are right for all persons. To find out which one may be the best for you, talk with your doctor or health care provider.
Blood Given By Community Donors: This blood has been given by volunteers at blood drive sites in cities across the state. The blood center screens the donors and tests the blood to provide the safest product. The blood is used by the blood bank at the hospital.
Blood Given By You (Autologous Blood): Most blood is donated by others, but the safest blood for you to receive is your own. When you know far enough ahead of time, you may be able to give your own blood for your transfusion. Giving your own blood depends on your health and whether or not you will be likely to need blood--for instance, during or after surgery. To learn more about this choice, ask for the pamphlet about giving your own blood. Speak with your doctor. Your doctor must arrange for it. The blood center, not the hospital, collects this blood. The cost of autologous red blood cells is about the same as banked blood and may not be covered by all insurance companies. Unused autologous units are billed to the patient.
Blood Given By a Family Member or Friends (Directed Donor): With this option, you can choose your own blood donors from family members or friends. There is no proof that this blood is safer than that from others. In fact, it may be less safe. People close to you may feel pressure to donate their blood and may fail to give complete health information. The cost is about the same as banked blood and may not be covered by all insurance companies. To learn more about this option, talk with your doctor and ask for a pamphlet about it.
Refusing Blood Transfusions: You can refuse to have blood transfusions if this treatment conflicts with your beliefs. At UW Hospital & Clinics, competent adults have the right to refuse blood and blood products. The adults must not be the sole parent of dependent children or pregnant. They must also be aware of health consequences of their choice. For more details about this option, please speak with your doctor.
Consent Form: At UWHC, an informed consent to receive blood or blood products must be signed before receiving them.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 01/10/2011
Copyright © 01/10/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5056
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