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Specialist Haematology Services

Blood Transfusions


Introduction Show [+]Hide [-]

Anaemia associated with a haematological cancer

Many people with diseases of the blood will develop anaemia at some time during their illness. Anaemia is a reduction in red blood cells. This can be due to the cancer or its treatment, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy. If the level of red blood cells (haemoglobin) in your blood is low, you may become very tired and feel that you have no energy (lethargy). This is because the amount of oxygen being carried around your body is decreased. You may also become breathless.

If you have symptoms of anaemia, or are having treatment for cancer, you will have a blood test to check your haemoglobin level. This is known as a full blood count (FBC). If your haemoglobin level is low, your doctors may recommend that you have a blood transfusion. A blood transfusion means that blood is given by a drip (infusion) into one of your veins or via a Hickman line. The blood contains extra red cells, which will pick up the oxygen from your lungs and take it around the body to other tissues and organs. You will then have more energy and the breathlessness will be eased.

Why are blood transfusions given?

There are different treatments for anaemia depending on what is causing it. Blood transfusions are a simple way of correcting anaemia. The symptoms of anaemia are often relieved quickly and you should notice a benefit within 24 hours of having the transfusion. Transfusions may be used alone or together with other forms of treatment for anaemia. The beneficial effects of a blood transfusion can be temporary and some people may need further transfusions. Please ask a member of nursing or medical staff if you wish to discuss this issue further.

During your procedureShow [+]Hide [-]

What will happen when I have a blood transfusion?

On the day of your blood transfusion you will attend Ward 6A. Before a blood transfusion is given, the blood must be cross-matched to ensure that it is compatible with your own blood. This involves taking a sample of your blood to identify your blood group, and matching it with suitable donor blood. This procedure ensures that the blood you are givenwill not make you unwell.

The transfusion itself involves inserting a small tube, known as a cannula, into a vein in your hand or arm. This is then connected to a drip. The blood is then run through the drip. Some people have a transfusion given through their Hickman line.

Each bag of blood is called a unit. Transfusions usually involve giving one to four units depending on how anaemic you are. Each patient is assessed individually and the doctor will decide how many units of blood will be given on the day of transfusion. Each unit is given over a period of two to four hours. If you need several units of blood you may need to stay in hospital overnight.

When the transfusion is finished the drip is taken down and the cannula can be removed.

Will there be any side effects?Show [+]Hide [-]

During the transfusion, you will have your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure checked regularly by the nurses to detect any reaction to the blood.

Severe side effects from a blood transfusion are uncommon. The more common side effects include itching, rashes, a high temperature and shivering (sometimes referred to as having a ‘reaction’). A nurse will monitor you during the transfusion. If you do have any side effects let the nurse or doctor know and they can give you medicines to help stop the reaction.

Many people worry that they may get an infection from a blood transfusion. All blood is carefully screened before use, and infections are extremely rare. Unfortunately it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of infection associated with blood transfusion. Please ask a member of the nursing or medical staff if you require further information.

Can I have more than one transfusion?Show [+]Hide [-]

Many people will need only one or two transfusions during their illness, although it is possible to have repeated transfusions if necessary. If you need to have lots of blood transfusions over many months, there is a risk of iron overload. This is because the red blood cells in each unit of blood contain a small amount of iron. Iron overload is a potentially harmful situation and treatment may be needed to help stop this from occurring. Your doctor or nurse will explain more about this treatment if it is necessary.

Further advice and informationShow [+]Hide [-]

If you have any problems, or require any further information, please contact:

Bone Marrow Transplant Team

Telephone: (0191) 282 9543
(Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm)

Ward 6A

Telephone: (0191) 282 5192
(Monday to Friday 8am to 4.45pm)

Ward 6B

Telephone: (0191) 282 4388
(Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm)

Ward 8

Telephone: (0191) 282 5008 at all times

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