Replenished: How Blood Transfusions Work

Medical procedures over the years have made it possible to treat a variety of illnesses that could lead to death. Some are relatively simple, while others take years to perfect. The usage of blood from donors has made many dire situations much easier to treat. Victims with large amounts of blood loss, are especially dependent on donor blood. There are also many situations, such as anemia, that call for blood even when none has been lost. Blood transfusions involve intravenous distribution of blood to the patient.

The Need

Doctors do not take the blood transfusions lightly. Each transfusion comes with a risk to the patient, and uses up blood stored in the bank. Blood transfusions are often necessary when a person has suffered a gunshot wound or other major injury. Blood can also be lost during surgery, requiring replacement. Some people need blood, even though they have not lost any. Anemic patients may receive blood due to the fact that their current red blood cells are either low or not working properly.

Sickle cell anemia patients are also common recipients of blood transfusions. Anemia is often caused by certain illnesses, such as cancer and kidney disease. Pregnant individuals may also become anemic if they do not adhere to a proper diet and take supplements. Hemophilia keeps the blood from clotting, therefore causing blood loss.

Blood Types

There are four blood types. The blood types are AB, B, A, and O type. It is not as simple as using only the type that you have. Type A blood types can receive blood from donors with an A or O blood type. Type B individuals can only receive B or O. Type O can give to any blood type, but can only receive O type. Type O donors are often called universal donors. AB can only give to other AB types, but can receive from any type. Blood types also have the defining factor of being either negative or positive. For example, there are A positive people, and A negative people. The Rh factor is the determining factor of whether you are positive or negative. Some people have Rh, and some don’t. Below is a list of blood types.

  • AB Positive
  • AB Negative
  • B Positive
  • B Negative
  • A Positive
  • A Negative
  • O Positive
  • O Negative


Prior to a blood transfusion, your blood type is confirmed. This allows medical staff to supply you with the proper type of donor blood. In an emergency situation, where blood type is not known, a quick blood test may have to be run. If the blood does not match up properly, or is rejected for some reason, and Acute Hemolytic Reaction can occur. In this scenario, the body of the recipient attacks the incoming blood cells. This response results in the production of a substance that can hurt the kidneys. Sometimes an illness only requires a certain part of the blood, like the plasma.

An intravenous (IV) line is inserted into the blood vessels in preparation to receive the blood. If you are already in the hospital for something else, this may already be in place. A nurse monitors the procedure by checking in on the patient regularly throughout the process. The healthy blood in put into the IV and transferred over a one to four hour time period.

Side Effects and Risks

There is always the possibility of an allergic reaction when you are receiving blood from a donor. Sometimes, allergy medicine is given prior to the event. Anxiety is a common reaction for those that are receiving blood. Many people worry about side effects and poor outcomes. Most of the side effects are mild, and not harmful. They can, however, be quite unpleasant. A fever, nausea, or chills can accompany the transfusion. More severe issues include trouble breathing, low blood pressure, or a quickened pulse.

Donated blood is routinely checked for diseases. Donors must be in optimal health to donate. Donors, however, may not be aware of health issues they are carrying. Tests and cleaning procedures help to keep the blood safe for recipients. Hepatitis and HIV are the main concerns when it comes to blood transfusions. The statistics are extremely low for transmission of either of these diseases. HIV carries a risk of one in two million. Hepatitis C weighs in at about one in two million as well. The risk for contracting Hepatitis B is around one in 205,000.

Blood transfusions are a great asset to the medical field. They allow people to survive accidents and deal with chronic issues. As with any medical procedure, there are risk factors. There are always attempts to prevent complications. Allergy risks, blood types, and diseases are all taken into consideration when a transfusion is planned. Emergency situations are more urgent, and allow for less planning. It is important to have your blood type listed on your identification, for the best results. Blood transfusion save lives on a regular basis.

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