Skip to Content

Blood Transfusion


What is a blood transfusion?

A blood transfusion is a procedure used to give you blood through an IV. The IV is placed into a large vein, usually in your arm. You may get only part of the blood, such as red blood cells, platelets, or plasma. Transfusions are usually done in the hospital or in a transfusion center.

Why do I need a blood transfusion?

A blood transfusion can help replace blood you lost through illness, injury, or surgery.

  • You may need a transfusion to increase your blood volume after surgery or hemorrhage (uncontrolled bleeding). Platelets and plasma may be used during surgery because they help your body stop bleeding.
  • You may get a transfusion of red blood cells for chronic anemia (lack of red blood cells). You may get platelets or plasma to treat a condition that affects blood clotting, such as hemophilia. You may need platelets if you had chemotherapy to treat cancer.

What do I need to know about blood transfusions?

  • Donor blood is tested for HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, West Nile virus, and other diseases before transfusion.
  • Blood transfusions are usually not painful. Caregivers will use the smallest needle possible so the procedure is comfortable. They will also try to find a large vein to use. You may feel some pain or see bruises near the site for a few days after the transfusion.
  • Most people do not need to make changes to what they eat or to their activities before or after a transfusion. Ask your caregiver if you need to make any changes.
  • A transfusion can last 1 to 4 hours. Ask your caregiver how long your transfusion should take.
  • You may need to arrange for transportation home if your transfusion is at a transfusion center. Ask your caregiver if you will be able to drive home.
  • Ask what you can bring into the transfusion room. You may be able to eat, read, or watch TV during the transfusion. You may also be able to go to the restroom with help from a caregiver.
  • You may be able to supply your own blood for transfusion during a planned surgery. This is called autologous blood donation. Your blood will need to be drawn and stored a few weeks before the surgery.

What happens before a blood transfusion?

The caregiver will explain the procedure to you and answer your questions.

  • Informed consent is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.
  • Identification: Caregivers will verify the written order for a transfusion. Two caregivers must check that your name, birth date, and ID number match the blood ordered for you. A caregiver may scan the barcodes on the blood bag and on your ID bracelet to ensure a match.
  • Blood sample: Before a planned transfusion, caregivers will take a sample of your blood to learn your blood type and Rh factor. The 4 blood types are O, A, B, and AB. Your Rh factor is either positive or negative. The transfused blood must be the right type and Rh factor 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 caregiver for more information about blood transfusion reactions.
  • Medicines: You can have an allergic reaction to the blood, even if it is the right type and Rh factor. Tell the caregiver if you have ever developed a fever, itching, swelling, or hives during a blood transfusion. You may be given antihistamines or fever reducers to help prevent an allergic reaction.
  • IV: An IV will be placed in your vein if you do not already have a central catheter.
  • Vital signs: Caregivers will check your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature before the transfusion starts. They will ask if you feel any pain.

What happens during a blood transfusion?

  • Equipment: The bag that contains blood will hang next to your bed or chair during the transfusion. There will also be a bag that contains saline. Tubing connects the blood and saline bags to your IV. The caregiver will let saline run through the tubing first. He will also run saline through the line in between blood bags if the first empties before the second arrives.
  • Transfusion starts: The caregiver will open a clamp so the blood can enter your IV. The blood transfusion will start slowly so caregivers can watch for signs of a reaction. Even a small amount of donor blood can cause a reaction. A caregiver will stay with you for at least 15 minutes after the transfusion starts.
  • Vital signs: Caregivers will check your vital signs at least once every hour until the transfusion is done. Tell them if you have signs of a reaction, such as pain, nausea, or itching. They will stop the transfusion immediately. If you are not awake or alert, caregivers will check for a drop in blood pressure, blood in your urine, and bleeding.

What happens after a blood transfusion?

  • Assessment: Caregivers will check your vital signs. You may 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 caregivers can watch you for signs of a reaction.
  • Equipment: The tubing is flushed with saline. Your IV will be removed if you do not need it for other treatment.

What are the risks of blood transfusion?

  • Transfusion side effects may be immediate or days later. Fever, chills, or mild allergic reactions such as itching, hives, or swelling can happen within hours of transfusion. You may develop shortness of breath or other breathing problems, sometimes severe. A very rare allergic reaction called anaphylaxis may cause you to go into shock and stop breathing. Delayed reactions include bruising, tiredness, or weakness that develops within 10 days of transfusion. Delayed reactions may cause mild to severe effects the next time you receive blood.
  • If you do not have a blood transfusion, your condition may worsen, or it may take longer than expected to recover. Refusal of a blood transfusion in an emergency can be life-threatening. Ask your caregiver about other treatment options if you are unsure about blood transfusion.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have questions or concerns about blood transfusions.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You develop a high fever and chills.
  • You feel dizzy or faint.
  • You cannot urinate, or you urinate very little.
  • You develop headaches or double vision.
  • You have a seizure.
  • You have chest pain or feel short of breath.
  • You feel tired and weak.
  • You see pinpoint purple spots or purple patches on your body.
  • Your skin or eyes look yellow.

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 caregivers 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.

© 2015 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.