Patient information leaflets are available from the UK blood services.
As with all treatments, a blood transfusion should only be prescribed when really necessary. The decision to give a blood transfusion to a patient should only be made after careful consideration. The risks of having a transfusion need to be balanced against the risks of not receiving one. Transfusion can save life and plays an essential part in the treatment of some conditions.
At present, there is no legal requirement in the UK to gain formal consent from the patient for the transfusion of blood products. It is, however, good clinical practice to discuss treatment options with the patient before reaching a decision to prescribe blood components. You should give the patient information on the benefits and risks of transfusion as well as any alternatives that may be available for that particular patient, such as oral iron therapy or autologous transfusion. It is essential that you provide this information in a timely manner that is understood by the patient, and that you ensure this information is understood.
A summary of some points that may concern patients is given below.
Why might a blood transfusion be needed?
Most people cope well with losing a moderate amount of blood (e.g. 2−3 pints from a total of 8−10 pints). This lost fluid can be replaced with a salt solution. Over the next few weeks your body will make new red cells to replace those lost. Medicines such as iron can also help compensate for blood loss. However, if larger amounts are lost, a blood transfusion is the best way of replacing the blood rapidly.
- Blood transfusions are given to replace blood lost during an operation or after an accident.
- Blood transfusions are used to treat anaemia (lack of red blood cells).
- Some medical treatments or operations cannot be safely carried out without using blood.
What can be done to reduce the need for blood?
- Eat a well-balanced diet in the weeks before your operation.
- Boost your iron levels − ask your GP or consultant for advice, especially if you know you have suffered from low iron in the past.
- If you are on warfarin or aspirin, stopping these drugs may reduce the amount of bleeding. Remember to check with your GP or consultant before your operation. (Please remember: for your own safety, only your doctor can make this decision.)
Are transfusions safe?
Almost always, yes. The main risk from receiving a transfusion is being given blood of the wrong blood group. A smaller risk is catching an infection. To ensure that you receive the right blood, the clinical staff make careful checks before taking a blood sample for cross matching and before administering a blood transfusion. They will ask you to state your full name and date of birth. They will then check the details on your identification wristband to ensure that you receive the right blood. They will regularly monitor you during your transfusion and ask you how you feel.