Red blood transfusion
Why do patients need blood
If you have anaemia, your body does not have enough red cells to carry the oxygen you need. You may feel tired or breathless (see coping with fatigue). A detailed illustration of what happens to the body when you are anaemic can be found on the Strength for living web site (highly recommended). Blood transfusion is an effective treatment where a speedy improvement is needed. Treatment by iron, medicines and vitamins may be effective when treatment is less urgent. Your doctor will only recommend that you have a blood transfusion if you really need it.
Is blood safe?
In recent years, people have become aware that viruses, including hepatitis B and C, may very rarely be passed on in blood. This may happen even more rarely with HIV - the virus that causes AIDS. In considering the risks of transfusion, it may be helpful to know that many common activities (e.g. smoking or driving a car) carry far greater risks of death or serious injury.
The chance of contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion in the UK is less than 1 in 2,000,000. This is classified as a negligible risk, of the same order as the chance of being struck by lightning. The current risk of a blood donation being infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C is 1 in 200,000. There is no proven or even probable instance of transmission of CJD by blood, blood components and blood products. In comparison, the risk of dying while playing soccer is 1 in 25,000 (i.e. at least 80 times more likely than being infected with HIV and 8 times more likely than being infected with hepatitis B or hepatitis C). The risk of dying in a road accident is approximately 250 times greater than the risk of AIDS from a blood transfusion, and 25 times greater than the risk of catching hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
The risks of having a blood transfusion must always be balanced against the risks to your health of not having a blood transfusion.
Can I have a reaction to someone else's
When selecting blood for transfusion, it is impossible to match a donor's red and white blood cells exactly with those of a patient, as there are far too many blood groups to match. Therefore, only the two most important blood groups are taken into account. Some months after a transfusion, a few people (about 8 - 10%) may develop antibodies to minor blood groups in donor blood. These antibodies will not make the person feel ill in any way, but will be identified if blood tests are done in the future. These tests will help decide what sort of blood should be given next time around.
Can I donate my own blood before an operation?
What can I do to make sure that a safe supply of blood will be available should I, my friends, family or members of my community need it?
What if I have other concerns?
Where can I get further information from if I need
If you wish to become a blood donor please contact (UK) 0345 711 711
Alternatives to blood transfusion
Both blood transfusions and eprex are successful in correcting anaemia. Early trials suggest that eprex has an advantage of improving the energy levels and quality of life over the whole chemotherapy course compared to blood transfusion. Ongoing trials are underway to confirm this and establish its cost against blood transfusion.
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