What Are the Potential Adverse Effects of Blood Transfusion?

Valerie Goldberg

A blood transfusion is a common procedure used to give donated blood or components of blood to a person. Accident or injury victims with severe blood loss are top candidates for emergency blood transfusions. Transfusions also sometimes need to be given to cancer patients and people with certain blood and liver disorders. This process can be lifesaving, but there are some adverse effects of blood transfusion. Possible negative effects include infection, allergic reaction, lung injury and fever.

The Rhesus Factor set of blood types.
The Rhesus Factor set of blood types.

Adverse effects of blood transfusion may concern some patients waiting to undergo surgery. One effect many people worry about is infection. As of 2011, thorough screening processes are in place to make sure donated blood is not infected with Hepatitis C, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or West Nile virus. No process is foolproof, but HIV transmission via blood transfusion is down to around 1 in 2 million. Medical science continues working to improve testing for a variety of potential health threats, continuing in the process to make blood transfusions safer and the adverse effects of blood transfusion less devastating.

Because people with any blood type can receive type O- blood, many hospitals and blood banks encourage donations of this type as often as possible.
Because people with any blood type can receive type O- blood, many hospitals and blood banks encourage donations of this type as often as possible.

Fever is a more common and routine reaction to a blood transfusion. Patients with a low-grade fever but no additional symptoms after a transfusion typically have no reason to be concerned. Adverse effects of blood transfusion that can be a little scary for patients but usually are not dangerous are those of the allergic nature. People experiencing an allergic reaction may break out in itchy hives, but doctors can swiftly administer antihistamines to get the reaction under control.

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Transfusions sometimes need to be given to people with certain blood and liver disorders.
Transfusions sometimes need to be given to people with certain blood and liver disorders.

Lung injuries can be a serious and possibly fatal side effect of a blood transfusion. As of 2011, doctors and scientists are still working to determine why some blood transfusion patients have lung issues in the hours following the procedure. Medical professionals keep a watchful eye open for signs of breathing problems post-transfusion and can use a ventilator to get patients back to a healthy state. Some fatalities do occur because of post-transfusion breathing side effects, but many of these patients were severally ill or injured at the time of transfusion.

People with any blood type can receive type O blood.
People with any blood type can receive type O blood.

People with any blood type can receive type O- blood, so many hospitals and blood banks work hard to get as many donations of this type as possible. Many times it is best for a patient to get a blood transfusion using his own blood — drawn earlier and stored — but in emergencies when rare blood type matches cannot be found, reserves of type O- blood can be lifesaving. People with the blood type AB+ can receive transfusions from any blood type.

A blood typing test is performed before blood transfusions.
A blood typing test is performed before blood transfusions.

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