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Blood Transfusions


What You Need to Know About Blood Transfusions

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Blood Transfusions

Know about the benefits, risks and alternatives to blood transfusion. When your physician orders a blood transfusion, she/he should explain the reason it is needed. The benefits of blood transfusion include maintenance of adequate oxygen levels and prevention of continued bleeding.

Source and Testing

Only blood that has been freely donated by volunteers is used for transfusions at Johnston Memorial Hospital. The blood donor is tested for Hepatitis viruses B and C, syphilis, the AIDS antibody and other factors. This greatly reduces your risk of getting these diseases from a transfusion. The blood you will receive is cross-matched (or tested) against your own blood for compatibility. The cross-match can be done up to three days before the blood is transfused to you.

You will have a special armband placed on your arm when your blood is tested. Do not remove the armband until instructed by your healthcare provider. This armband is required to identify you at the time you are transfused. If this armband is removed before transfusion, another test for type and cross-match would have to be done before you receive blood.

Receiving Blood

Your healthcare provider will check your temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and breathing frequently while you are receiving blood. Each unit of blood will take 90 minutes to four hours to be given, depending on your doctor's orders. You will receive an IV (intravenous) solution containing saline with each unit of blood.

Going Home After Receiving Blood

If you are going home the same day you receive blood, do not leave until your nurse or doctor tells you that you are ready to leave. Someone should drive you home in case you become ill. You may eat or drink as usual, but should delay participating in any potentially hazardous activities (climbing, swimming, etc.) for at least 24 hours.  

Adverse Reactions/Side Effects - Non-Infectious

The majority of people who receive blood have NO ADVERSE REACTIONS or SIDE EFFECTS.  Although most reactions occur during or shortly after the blood is transfused, some reactions may occur hours to 14 days after the transfusion. For this reason, please contact your doctor or the emergency department immediately for further evaluation if you should experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever/chills
  • Rash/itching
  • Swelling
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Flushing
  • Pain in the neck or back
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blood in your urine
  • Uncontrollable bleeding at the site of needle puncture
  • Unexplained new symptoms or problems

Some mild reactions may be due to anxiety about the transfusion.

A mild allergic reaction to blood is the most common and is due to a reaction with the plasma in the donor's blood. This can usually be promptly controlled with medication. Rare, but severe, reactions may occur because your blood is not compatible with the blood you received. Almost all severe reactions occur very shortly after beginning the transfusions.

Adverse Reactions - Infectious

Today, infectious disease transmission through blood transfusion is extremely uncommon. Infectious diseases transmitted by transfusion can be Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV, which causes AIDS. The risk of becoming infected with Hepatitis B virus is estimated at less than 1 per 150,000 units, and the risk of receiving an HIV- or Hepatitis C positive unit of blood through a blood transfusion is estimated at 1 per 2 million units.

Alternatives to Blood Transfusion

If you wish to donate blood for yourself, contact your physician to see if you meet the requirements for donating your own blood. If a family member or friend wishes to donate blood for you, contact your physician for assistance. Blood must be donated at least one week before you need to receive it. The donor's group and type must be known prior to donation of blood and it must be compatible with your blood type. If surgery is required, you may receive your own blood immediately during or after the procedure, depending on the kind of surgery. Your physician will be able to explain how this is accomplished.

Please let your nurse or physician know if you have questions or concerns regarding a blood transfusion or if you have chosen to refuse a blood transfusion.

While the blood you receive is voluntarily given, there are two charges for processing and testing the blood:

  • The blood-processing fee covers the cost of collecting, testing, shipping and storing the blood. This fee will be charged only if you receive the blood.
  • The blood cross-match fees are the laboratory charges for cross-matching (testing) your blood. These fees are charged when your doctor orders a cross-match test and are not related to whether or not you actually receive the blood.