A blood transfusion is a process that involves taking blood from one person (the donor) and giving it to someone else.
You may need a blood transfusion for a number of reasons, including:
- to replace blood lost during major surgery, childbirth or a severe accident
- to treat anaemia that has failed to respond to other treatments; anaemia is a condition where a person has low levels of red blood cells
- to treat inherited blood disorders, such as thalassaemia or sickle cell anaemia
You have the right to refuse a blood transfusion, but you need to fully understand the consequences of this before doing so. Some medical treatments or operations can't be safely carried out without a blood transfusion being given.
Read more about why a blood transfusion might be necessary.
Blood is usually given through a plastic tube inserted into a vein in your arm. It can take between 30 minutes and four hours, depending on how much blood is needed.
Read more about how blood transfusion works.
In the UK and other Western countries, there are rigorous regulations regarding blood donations and blood transfusions. The aim of the regulations is to minimise the risk of a person being given blood contaminated with a virus, such as hepatitis C, or receiving blood from a blood group that's unsuitable for them.
Compared to other everyday risks, the likelihood of getting an infection from a blood transfusion is very low. All blood donors are unpaid volunteers. They're carefully selected and tested to make sure the blood they donate is as safe as possible.
You must be correctly identified to make sure you get the right blood transfusion. Wearing an identification band with your correct details is essential. You will be asked to state your full name and date of birth, and the details on your identification band will be checked before each bag of blood is given.
Read more about getting ready for a blood transfusion and the risks associated with blood transfusion.
What does blood do?
When a donor gives blood, special equipment is used to separate the donation into different blood components, including:
- red blood cells, which transport oxygen around the body and are used to treat anaemia
- platelets – these help to stop the bleeding when a person is cut or injured; platelet transfusions can be used to prevent excessive bleeding in certain groups of people, such as those who are having chemotherapy treatment (powerful medication to treat cancers)
- plasma – a liquid that makes up most of the volume of blood; plasma contains many nutrients needed by the body’s cells, as well as proteins that help the blood to clot if a patient is bleeding
- white blood cells, which are used to fight infection
Read more information about blood donation.