A blood transfusion is the delivery of blood through a vein. The blood may come from an unrelated or related donor.
For planned procedures, some people have their blood drawn at an earlier date and stored until the transfusion is needed.
A blood transfusion should help increase your level of blood cells or other specific blood products. It may be needed if you have:
- Blood and fluid loss due to injury, surgery, or disease
Bleeding disorders, such as
von Willebrand disease
- Poor immune system
- Diseases that result in destruction of blood cells or bone marrow
- Side effects of certain medicines such as chemotherapy for cancer
Your doctor will review any possible complications with you.
Complications from a blood transfusion are rare but may include:
- Severe reactions due to allergies, volume overload, iron accumulation, and the mismatching of blood types. Hospitals have several steps to make sure blood is correctly matched.
Certain infections, such as hepatitis or
HIV, can be passed on during blood transfusions. There are many steps and tests that are done to thoroughly check donated blood before anyone is allowed to receive it.
- You will have a blood test to determine your specific blood type. The donor blood will be carefully matched to your blood type.
- You may also be given a physical exam. Your vital signs, including your temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, will be recorded.
- You may be given Tylenol and Benadryl before you receive a transfusion. These drugs will help reduce any minor allergic reactions.
You will be asked to sit in a comfortable chair. A bag containing the blood product will be hung nearby. An IV needle will be placed into a vein in your hand or arm. The blood product will drip slowly from the bag through a tube into your vein. After the bag of blood product is empty, the needle in your arm will be removed.
Common IV Placement
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Throughout the transfusion, your vital signs will be checked regularly. You will also be asked about pain, itching, or discomfort of any sort. Most reactions occur early in a blood transfusion, so you will be monitored more closely during the first 15 minutes.
The placement of the IV needle is uncomfortable. After the needle is in place, it should not cause pain.
Immediately following your procedure, the staff may provide the following care:
- You will be monitored closely.
- Your doctor may give you specific instructions based on your overall condition.
- Your doctor may order blood tests to determine how effective the transfusion was.
When you return home after the transfusion, carefully follow your doctor’s advice regarding any activity restrictions or other
After arriving home, contact your doctor right away if you experience any symptoms of an allergic reaction or infection, such as:
hives, or itching
- Swelling in legs, feet, hands, arms, or face
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- New onset of pain, especially in the back or chest
- Shortness of breath, wheezing
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge where the needle was inserted
In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Hladik et al. Transmission of human herpesvirus 8 by blood transfusion.
N Engl J Med. 2006 Sep 28;355(13):1331-1338.
Posthouwer D. The natural history of childhood-acquired hepatitis C infection in patients with inherited bleeding disorders.
What is a blood transfusion? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at:
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/bt/. Updated January 30, 2012. Accessed March 26, 2013.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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