Blood Transfusion (cont.)
Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
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.
In this Article
What to Expect During a Blood Transfusion
Blood transfusions take place in either a doctor's office or a hospital. Sometimes they're done at a person's home, but this is less common. Blood transfusions also are done during surgery and in emergency rooms.
A needle is used to insert an intravenous (IV) line into one of your blood vessels. Through this line, you receive healthy blood. The procedure usually takes 1 to 4 hours. The time depends on how much blood you need and what part of the blood you receive.
During the blood transfusion, a nurse carefully watches you, especially for the first 15 minutes. This is when allergic reactions are most likely to occur. The nurse continues to watch you during the rest of the procedure as well.
What to Expect After a Blood Transfusion
After a blood transfusion, your vital signs are checked (such as your temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate). The intravenous (IV) line is taken out. You may have some bruising or soreness for a few days at the site where the IV was inserted.
You may need blood tests that show how your body is reacting to the transfusion. Your doctor will let you know about signs and symptoms to watch for and report.
What are the risks and complications of a blood transfusion?
Most blood transfusions go very smoothly. However, mild problems and, very rarely, serious problems can occur.
Some people have allergic reactions to the blood given during transfusions. This can happen even when the blood given is the right blood type.
Allergic reactions can be mild or severe. Symptoms can include:
A nurse or doctor will stop the transfusion at the first signs of an allergic reaction. The health care team determines how mild or severe the reaction is, what treatments are needed, and whether the transfusion can safely be restarted.
Viruses and Infectious Diseases
Some infectious agents, such as HIV, can survive in blood and infect the person receiving the blood transfusion. To keep blood safe, blood banks carefully screen donated blood.
The risk of catching a virus from a blood transfusion is very low.
You may get a sudden fever during or within a day of your blood transfusion. This is usually your body's normal response to white blood cells in the donated blood. Over-the-counter fever medicine usually will treat the fever.
Some blood banks remove white blood cells from whole blood or different parts of the blood. This makes it less likely that you will have a reaction after the transfusion.
Getting many blood transfusions can cause too much iron to build up in your blood (iron overload). People who have a blood disorder like thalassemia, which requires multiple transfusions, are at risk for iron overload. Iron overload can damage your liver, heart, and other parts of your body.
If you have iron overload, you may need iron chelation (ke-LAY-shun) therapy. For this therapy, medicine is given through an injection or as a pill to remove the extra iron from your body.
Although it's unlikely, blood transfusions can damage your lungs, making it hard to breathe. This usually occurs within about 6 hours of the procedure.
Most patients recover. However, 5 to 25 percent of patients who develop lung injuries die from the injuries. These people usually were very ill before the transfusion.
Doctors aren't completely sure why blood transfusions damage the lungs. Antibodies (proteins) that are more likely to be found in the plasma of women who have been pregnant may disrupt the normal way that lung cells work. Because of this risk, hospitals are starting to use men's and women's plasma differently.
Acute Immune Hemolytic Reaction
Acute immune hemolytic reaction is very serious, but also very rare. It occurs if the blood type you get during a transfusion doesn't match or work with your blood type. Your body attacks the new red blood cells, which then produce substances that harm your kidneys.
The symptoms include chills, fever, nausea, pain in the chest or back, and dark urine. The doctor will stop the transfusion at the first sign of this reaction.
Delayed Hemolytic Reaction
This is a much slower version of acute immune hemolytic reaction. Your body destroys red blood cells so slowly that the problem can go unnoticed until your red blood cell level is very low.
Both acute and delayed hemolytic reactions are most common in patients who have had a previous transfusion.
Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a condition in which white blood cells in the new blood attack your tissues. GVHD usually is fatal. People who have weakened immune systems are the most likely to get GVHD.
Symptoms start within a month of the blood transfusion. They include fever, rash, and diarrhea. To protect against GVHD, people who have weakened immune systems should receive blood that has been treated so the white blood cells can't cause GVHD.
Medically reviewed by Rambod Rouhbakhsh, MD, MBA, FAAFP; American Board of Family Medicine
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/27/2014