According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, a blood transfusion is a safe and common procedure used to replace blood that was lost due to a serious injury, surgery or a particular illness that prevents your body from making an adequate blood supply. The NHLBI states that nearly 5 million people in the U.S. require a blood transfusion each year. The time it takes to get a blood transfusion varies depending on how much blood is needed. The majority of blood transfusions go smoothly and serious complications are rare.
Your blood type must accept the blood used in a transfusion, otherwise antibodies (proteins) in your blood assault the foreign blood and you become sick. There are four blood types: A, B, AB or O. In addition, blood is either Rh-positive or Rh-negative.
Nearly everyone can safely tolerate Type O blood. It is used in emergency situations when there is no time to check for a patient’s blood type.
It’s the job of blood banks to gather, screen and house blood. Donated blood is tested for possible viruses and other infectious substances that could make a recipient ill.
Some blood banks remove white blood cells to prime blood for a transfusion. This process is called white cell or leukocyte reduction. It is done as a safeguard to reduce the possibility of a rare allergic reaction to white blood cells in donated blood.
Using Your Blood
When a person knows a transfusion may be forthcoming, such as when surgery is scheduled, you may be asked whether you would prefer to use your own blood as opposed to donated blood. If you decide to use your own blood, blood will have to be drawn on a least one occasion prior to your surgery. Your blood will be stored in a blood bank until it’s needed.
According to the Mayo Clinic, during a blood transfusion a blood component (a part of whole blood) is inserted into the bloodstream. The type of component given is dependent on the medical condition. Donated blood that has previously been determined to be compatible with the blood type of the recipient travels into the body through an intravenous (IV) line, commonly inserted in the arm. The NHLBI says the length of the procedure can range from one to four hours depending on how much blood is required.
Patients who bleed excessively or who lack blood-clotting factors sometimes receive plasma transfusions. Plasma is separated from donated whole blood and frozen to maintain its freshness and thawed prior to the transfusion. A plasma transfusion prohibits blood loss by increasing the amount of blood-clotting factors.
In addition to its blood-clotting factors, plasma contains water, protein and hormones. The transfusion of each bag of plasma takes between 30 and 45 minutes.