Treatments for Blood Disorders
Treatments for Blood Disorders

Treatments for Blood Disorders Treatments for Blood Disorders

bags of bloodBlood transfusions and bone marrow transplants are two ways doctors can treat blood problems. Learn more about these procedures.


Blood transfusion

A blood transfusion is a common, safe medical procedure in which healthy donor blood is given to you through an intravenous, or IV line inserted in one of your blood vessels. Blood transfusions replace blood that is lost through surgery or injury. This treatment also provides blood if your body is not making blood properly on its own.

Four types of blood products may be given through blood transfusions:

  • Whole blood
  • Red blood cells, the blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body
  • Platelets, blood cell fragments that help your blood clot
  • Plasma, the fluid part of blood

Most of the blood used for transfusions comes from whole blood donations given by volunteer blood donors. Sometimes people have their own blood collected and stored a few weeks before an elective surgery in case it is needed.

After a doctor determines that you need a blood transfusion, your blood will be tested to make sure that the blood you are given is a good match. 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 or even a severe reaction to the donor blood.

Other complications of blood transfusions may include:

  • Fever
  • Heart or lung problems
  • Alloimmunization, when the body’s natural defense system attacks donor blood cells
  • Rare but serious reactions where donated white blood cells attack your body’s healthy tissues

Some people also have health problems from getting too much iron after 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 chance is less than 1 in 1 million. Scientific research and careful medical controls make the supply of donated blood very safe.


Blood and bone marrow transplant

A blood or bone marrow transplant, also called a hematopoietic stem cell transplant, replaces blood-forming stem cells that aren’t working properly with healthy donor cells.

Blood or bone marrow transplants are performed in a hospital. Often, you must stay in the hospital for one to two weeks before the transplant to prepare. You also will receive special medicines and possibly radiation to destroy your abnormal stem cells and to weaken your immune system before the transplant so that your body won’t reject the donor cells after the transplant.

On the day of the transplant, you will be awake and may be given medicine to relax you during the procedure. The stem cells will be given to you through an IV (intravenous catheter). The stem cells travel through your blood to your bone marrow, where they begin making new healthy blood cells.

When the healthy stem cells come from you, the procedure is called an autologous transplant. When the stem cells come from another person, called a donor, it is an allogeneic transplant. For allogeneic transplants, doctors try to find a donor whose blood cells are the best match for you. Your doctor will consider using cells from your close family members, from people who are not related to you and who have registered with the National Marrow Donor Program, or from publicly stored umbilical cord blood.

Your healthcare provider will keep watching your recovery, usually for up to one year or more. After the transplant, your blood counts will be checked frequently to see if new blood cells have started to grow in your bone marrow. The length of your recovery will depend on many factors. Before you leave the hospital, you will get detailed instructions on how to prevent infection and other complications.

Although blood or bone marrow transplant is an effective treatment for some conditions, the procedure can cause complications.

The required medicines and radiation before your transplant can cause side effects including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tiredness
  • Mouth sore
  • Skin rashes
  • Hair loss
  • Liver damage

These treatments also can weaken your body’s natural defenses against germs and sickness and raise your risk of infection.

After transplant, some people may experience a serious complication called graft-versus-host disease, which is when the donated stem cells attack the body. In other cases, the body may reject the donor stem cells after the transplant, which can be an extremely serious complication.

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