Recognizing Blood Transfusion Side Effects: Transfusion Reactions

Learn the Risks Involved in Blood Transfusions and How To Store Your Own Blood

Patient undergoing blood transfusion

Blood transfusions are utilized for patients who lose a lot of blood during surgery, suffer serious injuries, or those whose bodies cannot generate blood because of an illness. Since blood is one of the vital needs of the human body, as it travels to all parts and organs, the risks associated with transfusions are high, and there are some side effects. This article well help you recognize the most common blood transfusion side effects.

Side effects, also known as blood transfusion reactions, can occur as early as 5 minutes from the start of the transfusion, or 48 hours after the procedure. In rare cases, side effects have been experienced as long as 6 months later. Reactions may vary from mild complications to death. Here are some common side effect symptoms that pose different types of risks:

  1. Fever and chills, fast heartbeat, drop in blood pressure, or kidney failure. These side effects are caused by the wrong blood type being given to the patient. Kidney failure happens in rare cases. If this is experienced during transfusion, the doctor or nurse administering the process must be informed and the transfusion stopped so that the patient can be given IV fluids to normalize kidney functions. Since this mistake commonly leads to death, rigorous blood donation methods are followed by each blood bank in terms of screening and blood typing. This is one of the blood bank blood donation facts of which you should be aware.
  2. Allergic reactions such as headache, itching, rashes, and breathing difficulty. These are the common side effects of a blood transfusion. In these cases, the body’s natural antibodies react to the white cells that are infused with the red cells or platelets being transfused in the blood, or to the allergens that are in the donated plasma. These reactions are normally treated with medication. Patients who are undergoing transfusion on a regular basis, due to illnesses like anemia, may be asked to take medicines prior to the start of the procedure to reduce these side effects. Doctors may also opt to filter or remove white cells prior to the blood transfusion. In certain cases such as for surgery, the patient may use his/her own blood for the transfusion to prevent these side effects as well as the possibility of getting the HIV/AIDS virus.
  3. Heart failure. This may happen to very young or aged patients with a history of cardiac arrest who require blood transfusions. This is caused by the volume of blood being injected into the system of the patient, but may be treated with diuretics.
  4. Respiratory injuries. This may be an uncommon side effect of blood transfusion, but it is the second most common cause of transfusion-related death. This should be reported if experienced after transfusion so that general supportive therapy might be administered, and to help set future standards of blood transfusion.
  5. Graft-vs-Host Disease (GVHD). This happens if the blood donor cells attack the tissues of the patient. It is characterized by fever, rashes, and watery and bloody diarrhea, among other symptoms. Because there is no available treatment, GVHD has a higher than 90% mortality rate. It is only prevented through irradiation, where the DNA of donor lymphocytes is damaged.
  6. Abnormal bleeding, hypothermia or hypotension. This happens when the volume of the blood transfused is greater than what is needed. This is usually reversed by administering platelet concentrates or fresh frozen plasma.

Although the reactions listed here are dangerous and may lead to death, blood transfusion methods are generally very safe. However, if you’re going to undergo surgery, you may opt to be your own blood donor for safety, religious, or ethical reasons of your own. Your blood should to be drawn a couple of times before the actual surgery, and a blood bank will store it for your own use. This is still the safest type of transfusion as it keeps you from acquiring blood-transferred diseases.


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