Saving Lives with Blood Transfusions
When people donate blood, it is stored in a blood bank and used for blood transfusions. A blood transfusion boosts blood levels that are low, either because a body isn't making enough or a patient has lost blood owing to surgery, injury or disease. In some cases, typically those involving elective surgery, a blood transfusion is done with blood the patient has donated for themselves ahead of time.
During a typical blood transfusion, the needed parts of blood are delivered through an intravenous (IV) line that's placed in one of the arm veins. A blood transfusion usually takes one to four hours, though in an emergency it can be done much faster.
Why you may need a blood transfusion
People receive blood transfusions for many reasons. Blood transfusions provide the part or parts of blood that are most needed in a patient: red cells, white cells, plasma or platelets. Issues that most commonly require blood transfusions are:
Blood components each have important functions
- Red blood cells transport oxygen from the lungs to the tissues; too few red cells lead to anemia, tiredness, malaise and pale skin.
- Platelets help stop bleeding by plugging holes in the blood vessel wall; patients with too few platelets bleed more easily and develop "petechiae," which are flea-bite size bleedings in the skin and may show up as small purple dots on the skin.
- White blood cells fight infections by eating and killing bacteria.
- Plasma carries all three of the above components. The primary purpose of plasma is to transport nutrients, hormones and proteins to the parts of the body that need it.