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 cancer. For people in critical condition, blood transfusions can be lifesaving.
Four types of blood products may be given through blood transfusions: whole blood, red blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Most of the blood used for transfusions comes from whole 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.
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 blood type. 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, alloimmunization, 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.
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.
In support of our mission, we are committed to advancing blood transfusion research in part through the following ways.
Learn about exciting research areas the NHLBI is exploring to improve blood transfusion.
We lead or sponsor many studies on blood transfusion. See whether you or someone you know is eligible to participate in our clinical trials.
After reading our Blood Transfusion Health Topic, you may be interested in additional information found in the following resources.