Skip to Content

Blood Transfusion Reactions


A blood transfusion reaction is a harmful immune system response to donor blood. You can have a reaction if you get donor blood that is the wrong type or if you are allergic to something in the donor blood. Reactions can happen right away or much later, and can be mild or severe.


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.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • You have a seizure.
  • You have a headache or double vision.
  • You are lightheaded, confused, or feel like you are going to faint.
  • You have nausea, diarrhea, or abdominal cramps, or you are vomiting.
  • You see pinpoint purple spots or purple patches on your body.
  • You feel dizzy and weak about 7 days after your transfusion.
  • Your skin feels sweaty and cold.
  • Your lips or fingernails look blue.
  • Your skin or the whites of your eyes look yellow.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have questions or concerns about blood transfusions.


  • Antihistamines decrease itching and swelling from a mild allergic reaction.
  • Steroids may be given for a few days to prevent inflammation from returning.
  • Medicine may be given to lower a fever.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him 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.

Prevent another transfusion reaction:

  • Give complete health information. Tell your healthcare providers about your health conditions, transfusions, and pregnancies.
  • Alert your healthcare providers about any problems. Tell your healthcare providers right away if something feels wrong. They will stop the transfusion and treat your symptoms. Pain, nausea, itching, or a large bruise at the transfusion site are good reasons to stop the transfusion.
  • Ask if you can use your own blood. You may be able to get your own blood during surgery. Your blood will need to be drawn and stored a few weeks before a scheduled surgery.
  • Carry medical alert identification. Wear jewelry or carry a card that says you had a blood transfusion reaction. Healthcare providers may give you medicine before the transfusion to prevent a reaction.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

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

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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.