Blood Transfusion

Blood provides needed oxygen and nourishment to the body. It also assists by carrying away the waste products of the cells.

Blood is made up of:

  • Red blood cells (RBCs), which carry oxygen to the tissues and organs of the body
  • White blood cells (WBCs), which protect the body from infection
  • Platelets, the small cells that help the blood to clot and stop bleeding
  • Plasma, the liquid part of whole blood that contains proteins that help the blood to clot

A transfusion of blood or blood products may be needed due to surgery, injuries or certain conditions or diseases. This transfer of blood or blood products can be:

  • From one person to another (donor or allogeneic)
  • Self-donated (autologous)
  • An autologous donation is sometimes done prior to a planned surgery or medical procedure

Your doctor or advanced practice nurse will review the need for and the risks and benefits of the transfusion with you. You will be asked to consent to the transfusion in writing.

If you have any questions or concerns, please talk with your doctor or nurse.

There is some risk with every medical procedure, including transfusion, but certain safeguards have been put in place.

All blood donors must answer questions about their health and lifestyle before donating blood. Once the blood is donated, it is carefully tested for infectious diseases. Blood that does not pass testing is destroyed.

Prior to each transfusion, careful measures are taken to assure that the proper blood product is given to the correct patient.

Before the Transfusion

For donated or allogeneic transfusion, a small amount of your blood is tested to make sure that it is a safe match with the donor blood. Your blood is checked for:

  • Blood type (A, AB, B, O)
  • Rh Factor (Positive or Negative)
  • Antibodies (which may cause problems during the transfusion)

In some cases, an added blood sample is needed to complete the matching process.

When the blood samples are taken, a small sticker is placed on your hospital ID bracelet or photo ID (for outpatients). Do not remove the sticker or ID bracelet until you are told to do so by a healthcare team member. Before transfusing each blood product, two members of the healthcare team check the code on the sticker.

An IV (into the vein) line is inserted in your arm or hand. (Patients with a central venous line usually do not need to have an added IV line started.)

It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if you have had a reaction to blood or blood products in the past.

During the Transfusion

You may eat, drink and move around during the transfusion unless advised otherwise.

Some blood products, such as platelets, are given over a short period of time. Other blood products, such as red blood cells, may take as long as 4 hours to transfuse. The nurse monitors you closely before, during and after each transfusion.

Tell your healthcare team if you:

  • Have difficulty breathing
  • Have itching, rash or hives
  • Feel hot or cold
  • Feel sick to your stomach
  • Have a headache, back or chest pain
  • Have pain or swelling at the IV site

After the Transfusion

You can return to your normal activities after the transfusion. Sometimes you can have a delayed reaction to a transfusion. Although rare, call your healthcare team if you have a fever, dark urine or if the whites of your eyes become yellow (this is a symptom of jaundice).

Rube Walker Blood Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital
250 East Superior Street
Fifth Floor, Suite 05-2322
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Phone 312.926.2342