What is Blood Transfusion?
Blood Transfusion is receiving blood or any of its products (red cells, platelets or plasma), which is taken from a healthy person and given to another.
Why might I need a Blood Transfusion?
- To replace significant blood loss as a result of surgery or an accident so you do not suffer the serious effects of your blood loss.
- To treat anaemia (lack of red blood cells) - this may make you feel tired, breathlesss or unwell.
- To treat bleeding or clotting disorders.
- As a treatment in certain diseases and blood disorders.
The details of why you may need blood can be further explained to you by your doctor or nurse.
How is blood given?
Blood is given through a drip into your vein in your arm or hand, and is known as a transfusion. The transfusion should not be painful. One bag of blood (a unit) takes about 2-4 hours to be given.
What steps are taken to ensure blood is safe?
There are many safety checks done by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) to ensure the safety of the blood supply.
- All donors are voluntary and unpaid. Unpaid donors are the safest source of blood.
- Before giving blood, all donors are carefully tested and must answer detailed questions about their general health and risk factors for disease.
- Donors who have any risk factors are not allowed to donate by the IBTS.
- All donated blood is tested for the following viruses: Hepatitis B and C; HIV 1 and 2; Syphilis and Human T Cell Leukaemia (HTCL).
How is blood matched?
To make sure you receive blood that matches your own, a sample of your blood will be taken.
- The person taking this sample will ask you to state your full name and date of birth.
- There are many blood groups. The four most important ones are: A, B, AB, O.
- These groups are further classified as Rhesus Positive or Rhesus Negative.
- Before your transfusion begins, a number of checks will take place; you, your wristbands, and the donated blood will be carefully checked to ensure you receive the correct blood.
What are the benefits and risks of receiving a blood transfusion?
- Investigations and operations can be done because blood is available.
- When needed, blood saves and improves the quality of many hundreds of lives.
- There are many safety measures in place to make blood transfusion as safe as possible. Transfusion can be an important part of your treatment but does carry some risks.
Therefore, it will only be recommended that you have a blood transfusion if it is really necessary.
The serious risks, although rare, include:
- Spread of infection and viruses
- Reaction to the blood transfusion.
- Infections and viruses
- The actual risks of getting an infection or virus from blood is very small. In Ireland the risk of getting these viruses from a blood transfusion is:
- HIV - one chance in four million
- Hepatitis C - one chance in four million
- Hepatitis B - 1 in 250,000
- vCJD - two cases in Ireland
- Bacterial infection is very rare due to the careful collection and storage of blood.
Serious reactions to blood are rare. A nurse will observe you very carefully during transfusion, particularly at the beginning. Reactions may occur at any time during, after, or up to several weeks following a transfusion.
The symptoms may include:
- Breathlessness/chest pain/back pain
- Jaundice (yellow colouring of the skin and/or whites of the eyes)
- Dark/red urine
A reaction may not always be a cause for concern, but it is important to seek medical help immediately if you experience any symptoms.
Are there alternatives to having a blood transfusion?
Your doctor will not order a transfusion unless you really need it. Other alternatives to a transfusion may include:
- Fluids (via a drip)
- Sometimes it is possible for a patient to be transfused with their own blood (autologous donation). This can be used if you are undergoing planned surgery where blood use is expected.
- These alternatives are not always suitable. Your doctor can further advise you if the above are available and would be an option in your case.
Can relatives or friends donate blood for me?
Relatives or friends are not permitted to donate blood for you in Ireland, the UK, or in most European countries. Research has shown that such transfusions are not any safer than carefully selected donor blood.
How can I find out more about blood transfusions?
If you require any further information on blood transfusion, please ask your doctor or nurse who will be happy to answer your questions.
Blood transfusion remains as important as ever in the treatment of many medical conditions. Every effort is made to reduce the risks of blood transfusion. These risks must be balanced against the benefits to your health.
For information about becoming a blood donor, please contact the Irish Blood Transfusion Service on
1850 731 137 or visit their website, www.giveblood.ie