Blood Transfusions

Why am I having a blood transfusion and/or blood products transfusion?

Your doctor has recommended that you have a transfusion of blood or blood products, which are from volunteer donors. Blood is collected and screened by the Australian Red Cross service.

A transfusion is necessary to replace part of your blood when bleeding has occurred following an injury or during surgery.

A transfusion is given to either:

  • replace red blood cells to treat or prevent anaemia, improve oxygen transport and relieve symptoms of dizziness, tiredness or shortness of breath or
  • to give you platelets to help stop or prevent bleeding or
  • to give a plasma product to stop, treat or prevent bleeding.

Transfusions are given via a cannula (needle in your vein) or a central line into your vein. You will be closely watched for any reactions. You will also be regularly checked as to whether you need another blood transfusion.

What are the risks of having a blood or blood products (fresh) transfusion?

Most common reactions to the blood or blood products that are being transfused are:

  • high temperature
  • rash, itching and hives
  • feeling a bit unwell.

Rare risks are:

  • having too much blood/fluids giving you shortness of breath.
  • haemolysis, the abnormal breakdown of red blood cells.
  • the development of antibodies which may complicate future transfusions. If these complications develop in women they can potentially cause problems for all current and future unborn babies.
  • lung injury causing shortness of breath.
  • the spread of viral or other infectious germs from the blood of the donors.

Very rarely, these above reactions can cause severe harm or possibly death.

There are specific complications for long term multiple transfusions that may be relevant to your medical condition. Please discuss these with your doctor.

Other relevant treatment options

In some situations there maybe other choices to a blood transfusion and these include fluid replacement with saline or other artificial compounds and/or iron supplements.