During a blood transfusion, a person (the recipient) receives healthy blood from another person (the donor). The donated blood is carefully screened for diseases before it is used. Before receiving a blood transfusion, the recipient's blood is analyzed closely (using
blood type) to make sure the donor blood is a close match to the recipient's.
Blood is transfused into an arm vein slowly over 1 to 4 hours (except in an emergency when blood is transfused more quickly).
Blood transfusions can:
- Treat a sudden or short-term condition related to sickle cell disease.
- Treat severe complications of sickle cell disease.
- Prevent complications of sickle cell disease.
- Lower the risk of stroke in infants and children.
Blood transfusions aren't usually used to treat uncomplicated
painful eventsor mild to moderate anemia.
Following a blood transfusion, doctors keep a close watch on the person for any negative reactions.
Your doctor might check for iron buildup in the body (iron overload). This can happen when a person gets many transfusions.
A blood transfusion lowers the amount of
hemoglobinS red blood cells in the body. When there are fewer sickled hemoglobin S cells in the bloodstream, they are less likely to build up and block blood vessels.
Blood transfusion also increases the number of normal red blood cells in the body, increasing the supply of oxygen to the body.
Some sudden complications of sickle cell disease cause the body's red blood cell count to drop to life-threatening levels (severe anemia). When severe, these conditions (including
splenic sequestration, acute chest syndrome, and aplastic crisis) can be fatal if not treated with blood transfusions.
Chronic severe anemia from kidney failure may need treatment with periodic blood transfusions.
general anesthesiaand surgery, people who have sickle cell disease are at risk for sickling-related problems and acute chest syndrome. Blood transfusions before surgery can prevent or treat these complications.
Red blood cell sickling-related complications (vaso-occlusion)
Blood transfusions can treat acute chest syndrome and leg ulcers.
Frequent blood transfusions may help prevent strokes in children who already had a stroke or are at high risk for a first stroke.
Blood transfusion is an effective and proven treatment for some severe complications of sickle cell disease.
Blood transfusions reduce the risk of some complications of sickle cell disease and reduce symptoms of severe anemia.
Blood transfusion may help prevent a first stroke in children who have sickle cell disease. Transfusions can help prevent a second stroke in most children. But some children who get repeat transfusions will still have a second stroke.
A person receiving many blood transfusions will gradually collect too much iron in the body (iron overload). Very high levels of iron can lead to
hemochromatosis, which can be fatal if untreated.
chelation treatmentcan help rid the body of excess iron.
A person receiving repeat blood transfusions may develop
antibodiesto the donor blood. This is called alloimmunization. Alloimmunization makes repeated transfusions more difficult. It occurs in about 1 out of 4 people who have sickle cell disease and who get frequent transfusions. 4
A transfusion reaction can result from mismatched blood type. And it may occur immediately or days later. An acute transfusion reaction ranges from mild (fever, chills, and rash) to severe (
shock, severe anemia, painful event, and death).
Donated blood is carefully screened for diseases before it is used. It is very rare for a disease to be transmitted through donated blood.
If you have repeated blood transfusions, you'll have routine testing for iron buildup in your body.
Though blood transfusions are an effective treatment for sickle cell disease complications, they are only used selectively. The risks of hemochromatosis and alloimmunization from repeat transfusions makes this procedure more suitable for severe and high-risk conditions.
- Goldstein LB, et al. (2010). Guidelines for the primary prevention of stroke: A guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. Published online December 2, 2010 (doi: 10.1161/STR.0b013e3181fcb238). Also available online: http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/42/2/517.full.
- Wang WC (2009). Sickle cell anemia and other sickling syndromes. In JP Greer et al., eds., Wintrobe's Clinical Hematology, 12th ed., pp. 1038–1082. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health (2002). The Management of Sickle Cell Disease (NIH Publication No. 02-2117). Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/blood/sickle/.
- Steinberg MH (2016). Sickle cell disease and other hemoglobinopathies. In L Goldman, A Shafer, eds., Goldman-Cecil Medicine, 25th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1095–1104. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Current as of: November 8, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Martin H. Steinberg, MD - Hematology