What is a blood transfusion?
A blood transfusion is a medical procedure in which donated blood is given to you. It is a safe procedure and can be life-saving. If complications occur, they are typically mild.
Why might I need a blood transfusion?
You might need a blood transfusion if:
- you have lost a lot of blood because of surgery, childbirth or a serious accident
- you have severe anaemia (a lack of red blood cells), which cannot be treated in any other way
- you are having cancer treatment or stem cell transplants that affect your blood cell count
- you have a bleeding disorder
This video from the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood also explains why someone might need a blood transfusion
Make sure you talk to your doctor about why you might need a transfusion. Also ask them if there are any alternatives to blood transfusion — there often are.
What are the risks of having a blood transfusion?
Australia has one of the safest blood supplies in the world. But as with all medical procedures, a blood transfusion is not free from risk.
The Australian Red Cross Lifeblood collects blood from voluntary donors. The donated blood is then carefully checked to make sure it doesn't contain blood-borne diseases that could cause serious infections such as hepatitis and HIV. You can read more about the National Blood Authority Australia's policy on safety of blood products here.
You will also have careful identification checks before the transfusion to make sure you receive the right blood type.
What are the different types of blood transfusion?
Donated blood can be split into different parts. You will be given the part or parts of the blood your body needs. This could be:
- red blood cells — to carry oxygen to tissues and organs
- platelets — to help stop bleeding
- plasma — for blood clotting factors (which help stop bleeding), along with other proteins and antibodies
- cryodepleted plasma — for a blood disorder known as thrombotic thrombocytopenia
- cryoprecipitate — for when a large number of blood components is needed at one time (a massive transfusion)
What happens during a blood transfusion?
Before a non-urgent blood transfusion, you will be asked to sit or lie down. A needle will be inserted into your arm or hand. An intravenous drip (also known as an IV) will be connected to the needle and the blood will be given to you slowly via the drip.
It could take up to 4 hours to receive one bag of blood. During that time, the medical staff will carefully monitor your blood pressure, pulse and temperature at regular intervals.
How will I feel during and after the transfusion?
Most people feel fine during their blood transfusion, although some say they feel cold or feverish.
The medical or nursing staff will be monitoring you closely during your infusion, so if you start to feel unwell let them know.
How you feel after the transfusion will depend upon what blood product you received and why you received it. For example, if you had a red cell transfusion because you had anaemia, you should feel better after your transfusion. If you do not feel better, or if you feel worse, speak with your doctor or nurse.
You may not feel any different if you had a transfusion of blood products such as platelets or plasma as they may have been given to you to prevent a problem.
See your doctor urgently or go to the nearest hospital emergency department if you start to feel very unwell within 24 hours of having a blood transfusion. This is especially important if you have difficulty breathing or pain in your chest or back.
Can I refuse a transfusion?
Yes, you have the right to refuse a blood transfusion for any reason, including cultural or religious reasons. You should let your doctor know your wishes and carry details with you at all times explaining your wishes in case of an emergency.
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Last reviewed: May 2021