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Blood Transfusion

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What do I 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 do I prepare for a blood transfusion?

  • Your healthcare provider will tell you how to prepare. You will be told 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 1 time every hour. Tell them if you have signs of a reaction, such as pain, nausea, or itching. They will stop the transfusion immediately.

What should I expect 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.

What are the 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.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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