Straight, No Chaser: Blood Transfusions – Facts About Giving and Receiving

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When was the last time you saved a life? I’m not talking about an Internet game. There are many ways in which your efforts can make a significant difference in the life of someone whose life is at risk. One such instance is donating blood. This Straight, No Chaser reviews the basics of blood transfusion because it’s Patient Blood Management Awareness Week.

You have a greater chance of needing a blood transfusion than you may think.

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Each year, almost 5 million Americans need blood transfusions, meaning 5 million examples of active or potential people in the midst of imminent or potential life-threatening conditions. These can include any of the following:

  • Rapid loss of blood from injuries such as gunshot or stab wounds, motor vehicle collisions or broken bones;
  • Loss of blood during operations;
  • Severe anemia from disease such as cancer, sickle cell anemia, kidney disease or iron deficiency;
  • Bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia or thrombocytopenia.

Let’s recap why blood is so vital.

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Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the cells of various tissues and organs throughout the body. Failure to have an adequate supply of either oxygen or nutrients causes damage and/or death to the cells affected. You recognize many diseases in which this occurs, including heart attacks and strokes. Blood itself has many components, including red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma. Whole blood contains all of these, but more often transfusions occur via individual parts.

Do you know your blood type?

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On a list of things you should know about yourself, that really ranks high on the list. When seconds count, being able to share that information can make all the difference. The blood used in a transfusion must work with your blood type. If it doesn’t, antibodies (proteins) in your blood attack the new blood and make you sick.

  • Everyone has one of the following blood types: A, B, AB, or O. Also, every person’s blood is either Rh-positive or Rh-negative. So, if you have type A blood, it’s either A positive or A negative; that classification combines the two components that measure incompatibilities between blood.
  • Type O blood is called the universal donor, meaning it’s safe for almost everyone. As such, Type O blood is used for emergencies when there’s no time to test a person’s blood type. Approximately 40 percent of the population has type O blood.
  • People who have type AB blood are called universal recipients, means they can get any type of blood.
  • If you have Rh-positive blood, you can get Rh-positive or Rh-negative blood. But if you have Rh-negative blood, you should only get Rh-negative blood. Rh-negative blood is used for emergencies when there’s no time to test a person’s Rh type.
  • All of this means if you’re AB positive, you’re in a good position to receive donor blood and are relatively less likely to have allergic reactions to blood. Any blood type is good regarding the ability to donate.

Is donated blood safe?

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Blood banks collect, test, and store blood. All donated blood is meticulously screened for viruses, other infectious agents and other factors that could make you sick.

It’s helpful to know that not all transfusions require blood donated from a stranger. If you’re going to have surgery and if it’s surgery that is scheduled months in advance, your doctor may ask whether you would like to donate your own blood for potential use if needed during the surgery. Your blood would be drawn well in advance and stored in a blood bank. Even during surgeries, surgeons try to reduce the amount of blood lost so that fewer transfusions are needed. Sometimes blood lost can be collected and reused for the same patient.

Are there alternatives to blood transfusions?

It’s very interesting that of all the medical advances that have been made, there are still no man-made alternative to human blood. That said, researchers are trying to find ways to make blood. At this point, researchers have developed medicines that may help do the job of some blood parts. For example, some people who have kidney problems take a medicine called erythropoietin, which helps their bodies make more red blood cells. As a result, they may need fewer blood transfusions.

Will you donate blood?

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What this all boils down to is having sufficient blood supplies is vital to hospitals’ ability to take care of patients. Please consider this gift of life. You can easily check your ability to donate by contacting your local hospital or the Red Cross by visiting http://www.redcrossblood.org/give/drive/driveSearch.jsp. Besides, donating blood actually comes with plenty of benefits, including reducing cholesterol, improving circulation, reducing iron buildup and identifying any abnormalities you may have in your blood.

Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.

Order your copy of Dr. Sterling’s new book Behind The Curtain: A Peek at Life from within the ER at jeffreysterlingbooks.com, iTunes, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and wherever books are sold.

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1 Comment

Filed under Hematology & Oncology/Blood Disorders/Cancer

One response to “Straight, No Chaser: Blood Transfusions – Facts About Giving and Receiving

  1. Knight, John D

    Thanks for the post…I used to be a four seasons donor, but haven’t been as faithful in recent years. This has encouraged me to do a better job at giving.

    I was told in the past that giving blood actually helps the donor by forcing the body to regenerate the lost blood…almost a cleansing…any truth to that?

    Thanks again,

    jk