Receiving a blood transfusion
Like all medical treatment, the decision to give a transfusion to a patient is made only after careful consideration. Your doctor or nurse will explain why you need a transfusion and will discuss any alternative treatments available. In an emergency, it may not be possible to discuss all options at the time. If this happens, the doctors will talk to you about the transfusion as soon as they can.
Why do I need a blood transfusion?
Most people can cope with losing a moderate amount of blood without needing a blood transfusion. Your body will make new red blood cells over the following few weeks. However, if larger amounts of blood are lost, a blood transfusion may be the only way of replacing blood rapidly.
Red blood cells are used to support major surgery, accident victims and childbirth emergencies. They are also transfused when illnesses such as arthritis or cancer cause anaemia, for premature babies and to treat patients who are bleeding for other reasons.
Is it safe to have a blood transfusion?
Transfusion can be life saving but, like other medical treatments, it is not completely free of risk. The main risk from a red blood cell transfusion is receiving blood of the wrong blood group. Careful identification checks will be carried out by clinical staff to ensure patients receive the correct transfusion.
In the United Kingdom, we take many precautions to ensure that blood is as safe as possible. Blood samples from donors are tested for infections, which we know can be passed on in blood. This includes tests for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, Syphilis and Human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV). To meet the special needs of some patients we also test some donations for CMV (Cytomgalovirus) and Hepatitis E.
Other types of transfusion
When blood is donated, it is separated into components. These components are red blood cells, platelets and plasma, and each of these components can be used separately in the transfusion process depending on the medical condition to be treated. Platelets are transfused to increase the number of platelets in the blood or to replace the platelets which are not working properly, which commonly occurs due to cancer treatment.
Plasma (FFP) is transfused to increase the level of clotting factors in blood. People can develop low clotting factors when there has been liver damage or infection, or after a large blood transfusion.