Free 24/7 Nurse Advice Line: 844-GET-CHOC.

Blood Transfusions

Prior to a patient’s surgery or procedure, the surgeon may discuss the need for a blood transfusion. Below are frequently asked questions about blood transfusions at CHOC. For more information about a specific patient’s need for blood during or as a result of a surgery or procedure, it is best to speak with the child’s surgeon.

What is a blood transfusion?

When a patient receives blood through a needle or catheter, it is called a blood transfusion. Patients may require a blood transfusion because they have:

  • a low blood count before, during or after surgery
  • severe heart or lung disease
  • had bone marrow failure
  • moderate to severe anemia

Patients may also receive a blood transfusion when doctors predict the patient will lose blood during surgery.

There are several different components of the blood that can be transfused. Red blood cells are the most common type of transfusion. If the child’s physician has decided the patient might need a transfusion of blood, or blood products, he or she will explain the reasons for the transfusion.

Are blood transfusions safe?

All blood donors must answer medical history questions and will receive a limited physical examination before being accepted as a donor. The donated blood is carefully tested for hepatitis viruses B and C, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), human T-lymphotrophic viruses (HTLV) I and II, syphilis, and West Nile virus. These tests decrease the chances of transfusion-related infections.

How is blood transfused?

Blood is collected and stored in sterile bags that are used once and then thrown away. Before blood is given to any patient, it is crossmatched with his or her own blood to make sure it is compatible. The blood will be given through a needle or catheter placed in the vein. The child’s temperature, blood pressure and heart rate are checked many times while the blood is being given. It can take a few hours to complete the process.

What is designated donation?

CHOC offers a Designated Donor Program that allows families and friends to donate blood for a specific patient in need. Like all blood donations, designated donations are tested and if accepted and compatible will be available for the specific child. No blood is ever wasted and if the donation is not compatible or the child does not need the blood at the time of his or her surgery or procedure, it will be released to another child in need. Blood donations should be received at least five days before the child’s anticipated need. Read more about the Designated Donor Program.

What is autologous donation?

CHOC offers an Autologous Blood Donation Program that allows patients to donate their own blood prior to their surgery or procedure in the case that they will need a transfusion. No blood is ever wasted and if the child does not need the blood at the time of his or her surgery or procedure, it will be released to another child in need. Blood donations must be received at least one week prior to surgery. Read more about the Autologous Blood Donation Program.

Are there risks in receiving a blood transfusion?

Most transfusions are performed without any problems. Mild side effects may include symptoms of an allergic reaction such as headache, fever, itching or rash. This type of reaction can usually be treated with medication, should the child require additional transfusions. Serious side effects are rare and may include difficulty breathing and sudden drops in blood pressure. Transfusion with blood of the wrong type can be fatal, but this is unlikely to occur because all blood is checked multiple times by medical personnel.