Your blood carries oxygen and nutrients to all parts of your body. Blood transfusions replace blood that is lost through surgery or injury or provide it if your body is not making blood properly. You may need a blood transfusion if you have anemia, sickle cell disease, a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia, or . For people in critical condition, blood transfusions can be lifesaving.
Four types of blood products may be given through blood transfusions: whole blood, blood donations given by volunteer blood donors. A person can also have his or her own blood collected and stored a few weeks before surgery in case it is needed., , and . Most of the blood used for transfusions comes from whole
After a doctor determines that you need a blood transfusion, he or she will test your blood to make sure that the blood you are given matches your. A small needle is used to insert an IV line in one of your blood vessels. Through this line, you receive healthy blood. Blood transfusions usually take 1 to 4 hours to complete. You will be monitored during and after the procedure.
Blood transfusions are usually very safe, because donated blood is carefully tested, handled, and stored. However, there is a small chance that your body may have a mild to severe reaction to the donor blood. Other complications may include fever, heart or lung complications,, and rare but serious reactions in which donated white blood cells attack your body’s healthy tissues. Some people have health problems from getting too much iron from frequent transfusions. There is also a very small chance of getting an infectious disease such as hepatitis B or C or HIV through a blood transfusion. For HIV, that risk is less than one in 1 million. Scientific research and careful medical controls make the supply of donated blood very safe. Blood transfusions are among the most common medical procedures in the nation.
Research for Your Health
Improving health with current research
- Blood Transfusion
Learn about the following ways the NHLBI continues to translate current research into improved health for people who give the gift of life, and for people across the lifespan who need a blood transfusion. Research on this topic is part of the NHLBI’s broader commitment to advancing blood disorders and blood safety scientific discovery.
- The REDS-IV-Pediatric (REDS-IV-P) Program That Helps Protect Blood Donors And Blood Transfusion Recipients. The NHLBI started the Recipient Epidemiology and Donor Evaluation Study (REDS) program in 1989 to protect the Nation’s blood supply from threats, improve the benefits of transfusions, and reduce the risks of transfusions. Now in its fourth phase, called REDS-IV-Pediatric, this program supports research in the United States and around the world to evaluate and improve the health of blood donors and the safety and effectiveness of transfusion therapies in children and adults. REDS-IV-P also includes research to evaluate and prevent the transmission of infection through blood transfusions.
- An NHLBI Workshop to Guide Research Goals for Red Blood Cell Products. We held a workshop in 2018 where researchers and experts made recommendations to guide future research on new technologies and biomarkers that could be developed and used to assess tissue oxygenation before and after transfusions of red blood cells.
- NHLBI-funded Research That Supported Changes in Blood Transfusion Guidelines. Clinical trials funded by the NHLBI helped determine that the previous blood transfusion guidelines sometimes led to unnecessary transfusions. The current guidelines will limit unnecessary transfusions and help reduce the risks and complications linked to blood transfusions.
- Identifying Transfusion Strategies for Severely Injured Patients. An NHLBI-funded study compared two transfusion methods designed to better deliver blood transfusions to critically injured patients. The study found that the two methods were equally effective at helping patients survive their injuries. These results will help increase the treatment options available to patients. View No difference in long-term mortality found when investigators tested two blood transfusion methods in severely injured trauma patients for more information.
- Using Blood Transfusions to Treat Complications of Sickle Cell Disease. The NHLBI leads or sponsors many studies on the use of blood transfusions for the treatment of sickle cell disease. These studies have led to advances in the use of blood transfusions to manage anemia, prevent organ failure, and reduce the risk of stroke in patients who have sickle cell disease. View Evidence-Based Management of Sickle Cell Disease and Blood transfusions may mean fewer strokes in kids with sickle cell disease for more information.
Advancing research for improved health
- Blood Transfusion
In support of our mission, we are committed to advancing blood transfusion research in part through the following ways.
- We perform research. Our Division of Intramural Research, which includes investigators from the Hematology and Sickle Cell branches, perform research on conditions that require a blood transfusion.
- We fund research. The research we fund today will help improve our future health. Our Division of Blood Diseases and Resources, which includes the Blood Epidemiology and Clinical Therapeutics Branch and Translational Blood Science and Resources Branch, oversees much of the research on blood transfusion medicine we fund. This helps us to improve upon the safety of blood and blood products and their use in the treatment and management of conditions such as anemia, sickle cell disease, and bleeding disorders. Search the NIH RePORTer to learn about research the NHLBI is funding on blood transfusion.
- We stimulate high-impact research. The NHLBI Strategic Vision highlights ways we may support research over the next decade.
Learn about exciting research areas the NHLBI is exploring to improve blood transfusion.
- Optimizing blood unit storage conditions. The NHLBI funds basic and translational research to understand the effects of processing and storage on the quality of blood products. NHLBI-funded studies on age-related changes to stored blood have led to suggested updates to current recommendations for allowable storage times, storage conditions, and processing methods for blood products used in transfusions.
- Developing laboratory-derived blood components for transfusion. Although blood transfusions are very common, a shortage of donors could mean that a specific type of blood is not available when needed. The NHLBI supports research into methods to solve this problem by growing red blood cells and platelets in the laboratory. If successful, this could help ensure a constant supply of safe blood for transfusion.
- Evaluating the effectiveness of whole blood for transfusion in trauma situations. We are supporting research to investigate whether using whole blood transfusions that include red blood cells and platelets can help stop bleeding.
- Determining the benefits and risks of medicines for children in trauma situations. NHLBI-supported research is investigating whether tranexamic acid, a medicine that stops bleeding and improves survival in adults with serious injuries, can also benefit children.
- Identifying transfusion strategies for patients based on their specific health conditions. NHLBI-supported research is investigating whether a blood donor’s age and sex affects the quality of the blood transfusion. The study is also assessing whether some patients may benefit from receiving more blood transfusions than current guidelines allow. The NHLBI supports research to identify the appropriate amount and type of blood to give patients.
- Improving blood component safety. The NHLBI supports research to help reduce the risk of transmission of infectious agents through blood transfusions. We fund research to improve methods of identifying viruses, bacteria, and parasites in donated blood. Our REDS program includes research to protect the nation’s blood supply from threats such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, and the Zika, chikungunya, and dengue viruses. These protections help reduce the risks associated with blood transfusions.
- Understanding rare but life-threatening reactions to blood transfusions. Some people experience a transfusion reaction called hemolytic anemia, in which their red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be replaced. The NHLBI supports research to identify the cause of hemolytic anemia, predict people who have a greater risk of getting it, and find treatments that prevent it.
Participate in NHLBI Clinical Trials
We lead or sponsor many studies on blood transfusion. See whether you or someone you know is eligible to participate in our.
Are you prone to bleeding because of low platelets or a bone marrow disorder?
Have you had a heart attack, and do you want to help improve strategies for blood transfusion?
Did you recently give birth to a very low birth weight infant?
After reading our Blood Transfusion Health Topic, you may be interested in additional information found in the following resources.
Related Health Topics
- Blood Transfusion
- Blood Transfusion
- Blood Basics (American Society of Hematology)
- Blood Safety Basics (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Blood Transfusion and Donation (National Library of Medicine [NLM], MedlinePlus)
- Blood Transfusion Process (American Red Cross)
- Transfusion medicine (AABB, formerly the American Association of Blood Banks)