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Blood Transfusion: What You Should Know

[fa icon="calendar"] Jul 13, 2020 11:30:00 AM / by Calvin Leong


Why Is Blood Transfusion Important?

Blood transfusion
is one of the most common medical procedures for people of all ages. It involves transferring blood previously donated from one person to another. You may need a transfusion for surgery, to replace blood lost from a serious injury (such as a car accident), or to help manage certain medical conditions. A blood transfusion involves the use of a small needle and intravenous (IV) line. The needle is inserted into your blood vessel in order to transfer the blood you need. The procedure usually takes one to four hours. Before your transfusion, your healthcare team will confirm your blood type and the donated blood type to make sure they match.

Nurse speaking with a patient in hospital ward

Donated blood is typically collected and stored in a blood bank. Blood donations also can take place in a hospital or clinic laboratory. It is possible to donate your blood for your own use at a later time. This is called an autologous blood transfusion. The blood can be used for an upcoming surgery. (It takes four to six weeks to store enough of your blood for most surgeries. Your doctor can recommend how many units of blood you’ll need. He or she will also estimate the time needed to rebuild your red blood cell count between each donation.) Your own blood cannot be used in an unplanned situation, such as an emergency.

Smiling woman donating blood in hospital

Avoiding Blood Transfusion Complications

Most blood transfusions go smoothly and are successful. In most cases, strict blood donation screening, eligibility, and blood-type rules lead to a healthy outcome. A healthcare provider will check your temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate before, during and after the transfusion.

Blood tests can check your body’s reaction to the transfusion. The tests look at the health of your kidneys, liver, thyroid, heart, and overall health. The tests also check that the blood is clotting properly and how well any medicine you are taking is working.

There are some risks involved in a blood transfusion. Possible mild complications include soreness where the needle was inserted. There is also the possibility of adverse reactions to blood transfusion such as low blood pressure, feeling nauseous, a rapid pulse, breathing difficulties, anxiety, and chest or back pain.

Rarely, more serious complications include:

  • fever on the day of the transfusion.
  • liver damage from getting too much iron.
  • unexplained lung damage within the first six hours of the procedure (in patients who were seriously ill before the transfusion).
  • a serious or delayed reaction if you are given the wrong blood type or if your body attacks the red blood cells in the donated blood.
  • graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), in which white blood cells from the donated blood attack the tissue in your body.

Sick woman touching her forehead at home in the bedroom

Things To Consider About A Blood Transfusion

Blood transfusions are considered safe because of the strict screening, eligibility, and blood type rules established for blood donations.

Many people worry about receiving blood that carries infections or virus, such as hepatitis B and C, HIV, or variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (a fatal brain disorder, which is the human version of Mad Cow Disease). Although these infections and viruses can be spread through a blood transfusion, the risk of getting them is extremely low.

Who Can Donate Blood?

In Singapore, blood donors must:

  • Generally be in good health
  • Be between 16 and 60 years old
  • Weigh at least 45 kg
  • Not have had any symptoms of infection e.g. sore throat, cough, runny nose or diarrhoea for at least 1 week.
  • Not have had a fever in the last 4 weeks.
  • Not have taken medication, herbal supplements or traditional herbal remedies for at least 3 days. If you have taken antibiotics, wait at least 1 week.
  • Have a haemoglobin level of at least 13.0 g/dl for males and 12.5 g/dl for females.

Travel risks are also looked into to screen donors. For example, if a person recently traveled to an area with a Zika epidemic, they would not be allowed to donate blood until a certain amount of time has passed. This same questionnaire would be used to evaluate a person’s lifestyle, including whether the donor was at a higher risk for having HIV/AIDS. Blood donors may not be able to donate based on their answers to the questions. Multiple lab tests will check for infectious diseases and viruses.

Blood banks in Singapore remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Blood donation is an essential service to ensure that there is sufficient blood for patients. Healthy and eligible donors are encouraged to make an appointment before donating blood to shorten time spent at the blood bank. Post-donation care advice is available to help donors stay well after donating blood.

Blood donor showing thumbs up on a sunny day

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.


Carson et al., 2017. Carson J.L., Triulzi D.J., and Ness P.M.: Indications for and adverse effects of red-cell transfusion. N Engl J Med 2017; 377: pp. 1261-1276

Carson, Triulzi, Ness, 2017. Carson JL, Triulzi DJ, and Ness PM: Indications for and adverse effects of red-cell transfusion. N Engl J Med 2017; 377: pp. 1261-1272

Cooper et al, 2017. Cooper DJ, McQuilten ZK, Nichol A, et al: Age of red cells for transfusion and outcomes in critically ill adults. N Engl J Med 2017; 377: pp. 1858-1867

Delaney, Wendel, Bercovitz, 2016. Delaney M, Wendel S, and Bercovitz RS: Transfusion reactions: prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Lancet 2016; 388: pp. 2825-2836

Sapiano MRP, Savinkina AA, Ellingson KD, et al: Supplemental findings from the National Blood Collection and Utilization Surveys, 2013 and 2015. Transfusion 2017; 57: pp. 1599-1624

Savage W.J., Hod E.A.: Noninfectious complications of blood transfusion.Fung M.K.AABB Technical Manual.2017.American Association of Blood BanksBethesda, MD:pp. 569-599.

Strobel, 2018. Strobel E.: Hemolytic transfusion reactions. Trannsfus Med Hemother 2018; 35: pp. 346-353


For more information blood transfusion, visit:

Health Sciences Authority (HSA) - Blood Donation

World Health Organization – Blood Transfusion Safety


Updated on 2 July 2020 by CaregiverAsia.


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Topics: Wellness

Calvin Leong

Written by Calvin Leong

Calvin Leong holds a Master in Medical Education from the University of Dundee, United Kingdom. He is certified in Clinical Wound Care by the ASEAN Wound Care Association. Calvin has 20 years of clinical and lecturing experience focusing on Mentoring in Healthcare, Traumatology and Medical Sciences. Calvin is HRDC certified trainer. He is also a Life Member of The Malaysian Association for the Study of Pain (MASP) and the Malaysian Society of Wound Care Professionals (MSWCP).

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