Blood Transfusion

  • Medical Author:
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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Who needs a blood transfusion?

Blood transfusions are very common. Each year, almost 5 million Americans need blood transfusions. This procedure is used for people of all ages.

Many people who have surgery need blood transfusions because they lose blood during their operations. For example, about one-third of all heart surgery patients have a transfusion.

Some people who have serious injuries - such as from car crashes, war, or natural disasters - need blood transfusions to replace blood lost during the injury.

Some people need blood or parts of blood because of illnesses. You may need a blood transfusion if you have:

  • A severe infection or liver disease that stops your body from properly making blood or some parts of blood.
  • An illness that causes anemia, such as kidney disease or cancer. Medicines or radiation used to treat a medical condition also can cause anemia. There are many types of anemia, including aplastic, Fanconi, hemolytic, iron-deficiency, pernicious, and sickle cell anemias and thalassemia (thal-a-SE-me-a).
  • A bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia or thrombocytopenia (THROM-bo-si-to-PE-ne-ah).

What to expect before a blood transfusion

Before a blood transfusion, a technician tests your blood to find out what blood type you have (that is, A, B, AB, or O and Rh-positive or Rh-negative). He or she pricks your finger with a needle to get a few drops of blood or draws blood from one of your veins.

The blood type used in your transfusion must work with your blood type. If it doesn't, antibodies (proteins) in your blood attack the new blood and make you sick.

Some people have allergic reactions even when the blood given does work with their own blood type. To prevent this, your doctor may prescribe a medicine to stop allergic reactions.

If you have allergies or have had an allergic reaction during a past transfusion, your doctor will make every effort to make sure you're safe.

Most people don't need to change their diets or activities before or after a blood transfusion. Your doctor will let you know whether you need to make any lifestyle changes prior to the procedure.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/11/2015

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