When Your Child Needs a Blood Transfusion

When Your Child Needs a Blood Transfusion

Blood loss can happen if your child has an injury, surgery, or an illness that affects blood cells. Blood is made up of several different parts (blood products). Your child may receive some or all of these blood products through a transfusion. Blood for transfusion is donated from another person (donor). Strict measures are taken to make sure that donated blood is safe before it's given to your child. This sheet helps you understand how a blood transfusion is done. Your child's healthcare provider will discuss your child's condition with you and answer your questions.

The parts of blood

Blood can be separated into different parts that perform special roles in the body. These parts include:

  • Red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body.
  • Platelets, which help stop bleeding.
  • Plasma (the liquid part of blood), which carries red blood cells and platelets throughout the body. Plasma also contains proteins like clotting factors that help stop bleeding.

Are blood transfusions safe?

Donors provide the blood used for transfusions. To make sure that blood is safe:

  • The health and medical history of each donor is carefully screened. If a person is considered high-risk for infection or problems, he or she isn't accepted as a blood donor.
  • All donated blood is tested for infections such as hepatitis, syphilis, west Nile virus, human T-lymphotropic virus, bacteria, and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). If the tested blood is found to be unsafe, it is not used for transfusion and not given to another person.
  • Blood is divided into four general types: A, B, AB, and O. Blood also has Rh types: positive (+) and negative (-). Your child must only receive blood products that are compatible with his or her blood type. A sample of your child's blood is tested for compatibility with donated blood. This is done before blood products are prepared for a transfusion.

What is directed donation?

A child may need a blood transfusion during a planned surgery. Family and friends can have their blood tested for compatibility and donate blood for a child before the surgery. This needs to be done at least 7 day(s) in advance. This is because the blood must be tested for safety. Research has shown that blood directed by a family member is NOT safer than blood from the regular donor pool.

How is a blood transfusion done?

A blood transfusion takes place in a blood center, hospital room, or operating room. It usually lasts 1 to 2 hours. Your child's healthcare provider will discuss the blood transfusion with you before it's done. You'll need to give permission for the blood transfusion by signing a consent form:

  • Two healthcare providers confirm your child's identity. They also confirm that they have the correct blood product(s) for your child.
  • An intravenous (IV) line is placed in a vein if your child does not already have an IV. This may cause your child some brief discomfort. Your child may be given medicines before the transfusion to prevent transfusion reactions.
  • The blood product comes in a plastic bag that is hung on an IV pole. The blood product flows from the bag into your child's IV line. The IV line may be connected to a pump, which controls the transfusion rate. Your child may receive more than one kind of blood product through the IV.
  • Your child's vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature) are checked throughout the transfusion. This is to make sure your child is not having a reaction to the blood product.
  • The IV line may be removed once the transfusion is complete.

Possible risks and complications of a blood transfusion

Most transfusions are problem free. In some cases, reactions happen. These can happen within seconds or minutes during the transfusion or a week to a few months after the transfusion. The most common reactions from blood transfusions are mild allergic reaction and fever. Call the healthcare provider right away if your child has any of the following signs and symptoms during or after a transfusion: