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Blood transfusion

You may need a blood transfusion if you lose a large amount of blood, for example, during an operation, childbirth, or if you have been involved in a major accident.

We also treat severe anaemia with blood transfusions.

Like all medical treatments, we’ll only give you a blood transfusion if it’s essential. Ask your doctor or nurse to explain why you might need a blood transfusion and if there are any alternatives. You have the right to refuse a blood transfusion, but you need to fully understand the consequences of this before doing so.

Some medical treatments or operations can not be safely carried out without a blood transfusion being given.

Is a blood transfusion my only option?

Sometimes it’s possible to recycle your own blood during or after an operation. Ask if this is appropriate for you. We may manage certain medical conditions causing anaemia by treating the cause rather than by giving a blood transfusion.

What can I do to reduce the need for a blood transfusion before an operation?

Some medicines, such as warfarin, aspirin and some anti-inflammatory drugs may increase the risk of bleeding during your operation. Always check with your doctor to find out if you should stop taking these before your operation, and when you should restart them.

If you do not eat enough foods containing iron, you may have low iron levels. A varied and balanced diet should normally provide an adequate iron intake. Your blood count should be checked 6 to 8 weeks before your operation to see if you’re anaemic. A shortage of iron can cause anaemia and correcting this before your operation may reduce the need for a blood transfusion.

Are blood transfusions safe?

The biggest risk is being given the wrong blood. You must be correctly identified to make sure that you get the right blood transfusion. It’s essential that you wear an ID band with your correct details. We’ll ask you to confirm your full name, date of birth, and the details on your ID band before we give you each bag of blood.

If you have previously been given a card which states that you need to have blood of a specific type, please show it as soon as possible to your doctor or nurse and ask them to tell the hospital transfusion laboratory.

Compared to other everyday risks the likelihood of getting an infection from a blood transfusion is very low.  All blood donors are unpaid volunteers. They’re very carefully selected and tested to make sure that the blood they donate is as safe as possible.

How will I get my blood transfusion?

Through a tiny tube directly into a vein in the arm. Each bag of blood can take up to 4 hours, but we can administer it safely and quicker if needed. You may have more than 1 bag of blood during your transfusion.

How will I feel during my blood transfusion?

Most people do not feel anything. We’ll observe you at regular intervals. If you feel unwell during or shortly after your blood transfusion, tell a member of staff immediately.

What happens if I need irradiated blood?

Irradiated blood has been treated with radiation to prevent Transfusion Associated Graft-versus-Host Disease (TA-GvHD). It’s a rare but serious complication of blood transfusion.

You may be at risk from TA-GvHD if you:

  • have an inherited or developed immune system disorder
  • receive transfusions from family members, tissue type matched donors or granulocyte (a type of white blood cell) donors
  • have treatment with certain drugs
  • have had a bone marrow/stem cell transplant

Unborn babies and babies needing exchange transfusions may also be at risk.

You’ll get an NHS card with the relevant details stating that you need irradiated blood.

Always show this card to the medical team responsible for your care. You should also check if the blood you receive is irradiated before it’s transfused.

What if I have concerns?

You should discuss these with your doctor or nurse.

We may need to pass on information to the National Blood Service who may ask us for limited medical information on a sample of blood transfusion patients. Any information we pass on will be held securely with your rights protected under the Data Protection Act.

If you have a suspected haematological (blood) cancer

You can find out what happens when you’re referred, what type of treatment you may have and how we support you on our haematology page.