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A blood transfusion is a routine medical procedure in which donated blood is provided to you through a narrow tube placed within a vein in your arm.
This potentially life-saving procedure can help replace blood lost due to surgery or injury. A blood transfusion also can help if an illness prevents your body from making blood or some of your blood's components correctly.
Blood transfusions usually occur without complications. When complications do occur, they're typically mild.
People receive blood transfusions for many reasons — such as surgery, injury, disease and bleeding disorders.
Blood has several components, including:
A transfusion provides the part or parts of blood you need, with red blood cells being the most commonly transfused. You can also receive whole blood, which contains all the parts, but whole blood transfusions aren't common.
Researchers are working on developing artificial blood. So far, no good replacement for human blood is available.
Blood transfusions are generally considered safe, but there is some risk of complications. Mild complications and rarely severe ones can occur during the transfusion or several days or more after.
More common reactions include allergic reactions, which might cause hives and itching, and fever.
Blood banks screen donors and test donated blood to reduce the risk of transfusion-related infections, so infections, such as HIV or hepatitis B or C, are extremely rare.
Also rare, these include:
Your blood will be tested before a transfusion to determine whether your blood type is A, B, AB or O and whether your blood is Rh positive or Rh negative. The donated blood used for your transfusion must be compatible with your blood type.
Tell your health care provider if you've had a reaction to a blood transfusion in the past.
Blood transfusions are usually done in a hospital, an outpatient clinic or a doctor's office. The procedure typically takes one to four hours, depending on which parts of the blood you receive and how much blood you need.
In some cases, you can donate blood for yourself before elective surgery, but most transfusions involve blood donated by strangers. An identification check will ensure you receive the correct blood.
An intravenous (IV) line with a needle is inserted into one of your blood vessels. The donated blood that's been stored in a plastic bag enters your bloodstream through the IV. You'll be seated or lying down for the procedure, which usually takes one to four hours.
A nurse will monitor you throughout the procedure and take measures of your blood pressure, temperature and heart rate. Tell the nurse immediately if you develop:
The needle and IV line will be removed. You might develop a bruise around the needle site, but this should go away in a few days.
Contact your health care provider if you develop shortness of breath or chest or back pain in the days immediately following a blood transfusion.
You might need further blood testing to see how your body is responding to the donor blood and to check your blood counts.
Some conditions require more than one blood transfusion.
Last Updated Apr 15, 2020