Frequently Asked Questions About Blood Transfusions

This information answers frequently asked questions about having a blood transfusion.

Your doctor has recommended that you have a blood transfusion. Many people have questions about why they need a blood transfusion. Some people may worry about the risk of being infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis, or other viruses. The information below will help answer some of your questions.

Why do I need to have a blood transfusion?

You may need a transfusion because of the effect a disease, surgery, chemotherapy, or other treatments have on your blood.

You may need a transfusion of your red blood cells, white blood cells, or your platelets.

  • You may need a transfusion of red blood cells if you had a lot of bleeding or if your red blood cell count is low (anemia).
  • You may need a platelet transfusion if your platelet count is low (thrombocytopenia).
  • You can also have a white blood cell transfusion, but these are rare and done in very specific situations.
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How can I be sure that the blood I receive is the same type as mine?

Your blood type is either A, B, AB, or O. It’s either Rh positive (+) or Rh negative (-).

Your blood type is checked with a test called a type and crossmatch. The results of this test are used to match your blood type with the blood in our blood bank. Your healthcare provider will check to make sure that the blood is the correct match for you before they give you the transfusion.

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Can a friend or relative donate blood specifically for me?

Yes, friends and relatives can donate both red blood cells and platelets. These are called directed donations. These donations are tested in the same way as other donations. If the blood tests positive for any of the viruses listed above, the donor will be notified privately.

If the donor’s blood type isn’t the same as your blood type, the donation may be given to someone else who may need it.

Directed red blood cell donations are held for you for 25 days. Directed platelet donations are held for you for 4 days. After that, the donations may be given to someone else.

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Can I give blood for myself?

Sometimes, we encourage people scheduled for surgery to donate their own blood. It’s stored and given back if and when you need it. This is called an autologous donation.

Ask your doctor if you can donate your own blood. If this is possible, arrangements will be made with the blood bank for you to begin banking your blood.

You can donate your own blood several times during the month before your surgery. For more information about autologous blood donations, read the resource Being Your Own Blood Donor.

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Is there anything to worry about during or after a blood transfusion?

A blood transfusion can sometimes cause reactions. The most common symptoms are a temperature of 100.4° F (38° C), chills, and hives. These can be treated with medication. Transfusion reactions are rarely life-threatening. Your nurse will monitor you carefully while your blood transfusion is taking place.

 
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