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Blood Transfusion


What you need to know about a blood transfusion:

A blood transfusion is used to give you blood through an IV. You may get only part of the blood, such as red blood cells, platelets, or plasma. The blood may be from you and stored for you to use later. The blood may instead be from another person. Donated blood is tested for HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, West Nile virus, and other diseases.

How to prepare for a blood transfusion:

  • Your healthcare provider will tell you how to prepare. He will tell you if you can eat or drink before the transfusion. Ask if you can drive yourself home. You may need to arrange for a ride.
  • Tell the healthcare provider if you ever had a fever, itching, swelling, or hives during a blood transfusion. You may be given medicines to help prevent an allergic reaction.
  • Healthcare providers will take a sample of your blood. They will check that the blood used in the transfusion is right for you. You can get sick if your immune system tries to destroy blood that is not right for you. This is called a blood transfusion reaction. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about blood transfusion reactions.
  • Your transfusion may last 1 to 4 hours. Ask what you can bring into the transfusion room. You may be able to eat, read, or watch TV. You may also be able to go to the restroom with help.

What happens during a blood transfusion:

  • An IV will be placed into a large vein, usually in your arm. The bag that contains blood will hang next to your bed or chair. Tubing will connect the blood bag to your IV.
  • The healthcare provider will open a clamp so the blood can enter your IV. The blood transfusion will start slowly so healthcare providers can watch for signs of a reaction. Even a small amount of donor blood can cause a reaction. A healthcare provider will stay with you for at least 15 minutes after the transfusion starts.
  • Healthcare providers will check your vital signs at least once every hour. Tell them if you have signs of a reaction, such as pain, nausea, or itching. They will stop the transfusion immediately.

What happens after a blood transfusion:

You may need to have blood taken to check that your body accepted the donor blood. You will have to stay a short time after the transfusion ends so healthcare providers can watch for signs of a reaction. You may feel some pain or see bruises near the site for a few days after the transfusion. Apply ice to decrease pain and swelling. Use an ice pack, or put ice in a plastic bag and wrap a towel around it. Apply the ice pack or wrapped bag to your transfusion site for 20 minutes each hour or as directed.

Risks of a blood transfusion:

Fever, chills, or mild allergic reactions can happen within hours of a transfusion. You may develop shortness of breath or other breathing problems. A very rare allergic reaction called anaphylaxis may cause you to go into shock and stop breathing. Some reactions may happen days or weeks later. Examples include bruising, tiredness, or weakness. You may also have a reaction the next time you receive blood.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have a skin rash, hives, swelling, or itching.
  • You have trouble breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing.
  • Your throat tightens or your lips or tongue swell.
  • You have difficulty swallowing or speaking.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You develop a high fever and chills.
  • You are dizzy, lightheaded, confused, or feel like you are going to faint.
  • You have nausea, diarrhea, or abdominal cramps, or you are vomiting.
  • You urinate little or not at all.
  • You develop headaches or double vision.
  • Your skin or the whites of your eyes look yellow.
  • You see pinpoint purple spots or purple patches on your body.
  • You have a seizure.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You feel tired and weak within 10 days of your transfusion.
  • You have questions or concerns about blood transfusions.


  • Antihistamines may help stop mild itching or a rash.
  • Epinephrine is emergency medicine used to stop anaphylaxis. You may be given epinephrine if you are at risk for anaphylaxis. Your healthcare provider will teach you how to use it.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Apply ice

to decrease pain and swelling. Use an ice pack, or put ice in a plastic bag and wrap a towel around it. Apply the ice pack or wrapped bag to your transfusion site for 20 minutes each hour or as directed.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Blood Transfusion (Ambulatory Care)

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.