A red blood cell transfusion is a procedure in which an individual is injected with red blood cells, usually from a donor. This can be done for patients with anemia, those who have lost a significant amount of blood during surgery, because of a medical treatment, or for individuals who have suffered through an accident. Along with the blood cells, the transfusion may include a type of medication that encourages the body to begin replicating enough blood cells to help prevent another transfusion from becoming necessary. The first blood transfusion was done in the middle of the 17th century by a British doctor.
The procedure is usually done in a clinical setting, and the full red blood cell transfusion can take several hours to complete. A needle is inserted into the patient's vein, and this is connected to a bag that contains the unit of blood. The donor red blood cells are then cycled into the patient's system.
Usually, the red blood cells that the individual is injected with come from a donor that the patient may or may not know; in some cases, an individual may give his or her own blood to save for reinjection after a medical procedure. In order to be successful, the red blood cell transfusion must be of a type that is the same as or compatible with the recipient's blood. For example, a recipient who has type O blood can only receive a transfusion of the same type. An individual with type AB blood, however, can successfully receive blood that is O, AB, A, or B.
A red blood cell transfusion can be given multiple times, but may not be as successful after repeated transfusions. The success of a transfusion is measured by the amount the hemoglobin content of the blood rises after the procedure. Hemoglobin is the component of blood that carries oxygen throughout the body, and without enough of this, the various organs, muscles, and tissues in the body can become compromised.
When blood is donated, the original donation includes red and white blood cells along with platelets. Often, the red blood cells are separated from the other parts of the blood before they are injected. This allows for a more specific form of treatment designed to aid those who have only a red blood cell deficiency and to save the other components of the blood for other recipients.
There are rarely side effects from receiving a red blood cell transfusion. Before being administered to another patient, the donated red blood cells are tested for a variety of diseases and contaminants. Sometimes an individual might suffer an allergic reaction around the site of the injection, or experience mild, flu-like symptoms. If several transfusions are necessary, a medical professional may prescribe various types of medications to help eliminate the side effects.