Blood transfusions are a simple way of treating anaemia. A blood transfusion involves having blood from carefully screened donors.
The transfusion increases the number of red blood cells in your blood, which means that more oxygen can be carried around the body to the tissues and organs. You will have more energy and be less breathless. You should notice an improvement in your symptoms within 24 hours of having the transfusion. But for some people, the benefits may only be temporary and they may need more transfusions.
Before you have a transfusion, your doctor will explain the aims of the treatment to you. They will also give you information to read. This is available in many languages and in large print. You will usually be asked to sign a form saying that you give your permission (consent) for the hospital staff to give the blood transfusion. No medical treatment can be given without your consent.
You may decide not to have a transfusion. It’s important to tell a doctor or your nurse if you decide not to have treatment, so that they can record your decision in your medical notes. You don’t have to give a reason, but it can be helpful to let the staff know your concerns so that they can give you the best advice.
Jehovah’s Witnesses may choose not to accept some types of blood products. If this affects you, talk to your doctor about other treatments or ways of managing your anaemia.
Having a blood transfusion
If you need a blood transfusion, your blood will be cross-matched. To do this, the doctor or nurse takes a sample of your blood. This is used to find your blood group. This is then closely matched to donor blood. The tests used to cross-match are to make sure the blood is the best match for you and will not make you unwell.
The blood for transfusion is stored in small plastic bags. Each bag is called a unit of blood. You will usually have 2-4 units of blood depending on how anaemic you are.
Blood is given by a drip (infusion) into one of your veins. A nurse will put a short thin tube (cannula) into a vein in your arm or hand. This is then connected to a drip. If you have a central line or PICC line in place for other treatments, your nurse can connect this to your drip instead.
Transfusion of each unit of blood can take up to 4 hours. If you are having 1-2 units of blood, you can usually have it at an outpatient clinic. If you need several units you may need to stay in hospital overnight.