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A blood product transfusion is a procedure that gives blood cells or parts of blood to a patient through a vein. Your child may need a blood transfusion if their body cannot make enough blood cells. The blood cells may come from a donor or from the patient.
Blood cells develop in the bone marrow, which lies in the center of the bones. Some diseases and treatments can affect the blood or bone marrow and reduce the number of blood cells. These include:
Blood has several components or parts. These are separated from the blood to produce blood products:
The transfusion of whole, unseparated blood is rare. Blood is usually separated into parts, so the patient only gets what they need.
Red blood cell transfusion - If your child has anemia or a decrease in red blood cells, they may need a transfusion. They may also need red blood cells if they don't have enough hemoglobin to carry oxygen through their body.
Platelet transfusion - Your child may need platelets if they have low platelet counts. This condition is known as thrombocytopenia.
White blood cell (granulocytes) transfusion - Your child may need this transfusion if they have a severe infection that does not improve with antibiotics. Granulocytes are the type of white blood cell that is transfused.
Plasma transfusion – If your child bleeds too much, the doctor may order a plasma transfusion. Plasma has proteins called coagulation factors that help blot clot and stop bleeding.
Red blood cell and platelet transfusions are the most common type of blood product transfusion.
Most transfusions are done in a hospital setting, often in the hospital’s chemotherapy room, during a surgery, or at a patient's bedside. During a transfusion, your child will get blood cells through a small tube (catheter) that travels to a vein in their body. Once started, the transfusion may take 1-2 hours or longer. The time for transfusion depends on the type of transfusion, the amount of blood product, and the patient's weight.
When it is time for your child's transfusion:
If your child needs blood or blood parts, the risks of not receiving blood can be severe and even life-threatening. However, risks do exist for receiving a blood transfusion, as they do for all medical therapies.
Some patients may have reactions to transfusions. Typically, these cause mild symptoms, such as fever or a skin rash. In rare cases a reaction may be severe. In some cases, the reaction can be treated, and the transfusion can continue. In other cases, the care team will stop the transfusion.
Symptoms of a blood transfusion reaction can include:
In rare cases, a severe hemolytic transfusion reaction may occur. This reaction happens when the donated product does not match or work with the patient's blood type. Their body attacks the transfused blood cells, which release substances that can harm the kidneys. The nurse will stop the transfusion at the first sign of this reaction.
Symptoms of a hemolytic reaction include:
Contracting a disease or infection, can occur through blood transfusion, but it is rare. Safety steps are in place to screen blood donors to make sure they are healthy. Donated blood is tested extensively before a patient gets a transfusion.
If your child receives blood or blood products, watch for these symptoms of a possible transfusion reaction.
During the first 24 hours after the transfusion:
For up to 2 weeks after the transfusion:
If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, report them immediately to your care team.
Blood products are most often donated by volunteer blood donors. Sometimes a friend or family member donates blood for a specific patient. In some cases, the patient’s own blood can be used.
A patient must receive a blood product that works with their blood type. If the blood product isn’t compatible, antibodies in the blood will attack the donor blood and make the patient ill.
Blood banks take careful steps to make sure that blood is safe.
If you have questions about blood transfusions including the risks and benefits, talk to your care team.
Reviewed: October 2022