Blood is the body’s fuel, and a healthy supply of it is important to your overall health. The truth is you can’t live without it.
Each year, almost five million Americans need a blood transfusion to replace blood lost during surgery, a serious injury or the treatment of illnesses, like cancer, which can affect the body’s ability to make blood properly.
Blood transfusions are one of the most common procedures performed in hospitals, which means that at some point in your life, you or someone you know may need one.
“The properties of blood — red cells, white cells, plasma and platelets — are so unique that researchers still have not been able to develop an artificial replacement for it,” says Dr. Christopher Wixom, a Sharp-affiliated pathologist. “A blood transfusion can be lifesaving, but if you are receiving donated blood, it’s important to know that there is some inherent risk involved.”
Not all blood is alike
There are eight different common blood types, which are determined by the presence or absence of certain antigens that can provoke a dangerous immune response if the patient receives a non-compatible blood type. If this happens, a patient’s immune system attacks the transfused blood, causing serious reactions like kidney damage or even death.
Dr. Wixom says these cases are extremely rare. “The reality is that blood transfusions are a common medical procedure. At Sharp, nurses and laboratory specialists with an in-depth understanding of compatible blood types perform multiple crosschecks to ensure that the patient receives the correct blood type.”
More typically, patients may have some discomfort during or after a transfusion that feels like allergies. Hives, itching, nausea or fevers are treated with antihistamines or acetaminophen to alleviate discomfort.
For safe transfusion, blood types must be matched carefully. Although patients of any blood type can receive type O blood, those with types A, B or AB are more restricted. Learn more about blood types and blood matching.
The need is great
According to the American Red Cross, the average red blood cell blood transfusion requires approximately three units, but sometimes the need is much greater. A single car accident victim, for example, can require as many as 100 units of blood.
“Blood is one of the most valuable resources we have in the hospital, and it can’t be manufactured,” says Dr. Wixom. “We rely on blood from generous donors and need all types, including red blood cells, platelets and plasma.”
Even though an estimated 38 percent of people in the U.S. are eligible to donate blood, less than 10 percent donate each year. Type O is a universal red blood cell donor and is always in high demand. For more information on blood donation, visit your local blood bank.