When You Need a Transfusion

Can Adverse Health Effects Result from a Transfusion?

With so many safeguards in place, the risk of you having a reaction or adverse event from a transfusion received in the U.S. is very low. Actions by PSBC and your medical provider are intended to minimize patient risk, but cannot completely eliminate all medical risks. We want you to understand both the risks and the benefits of transfusion.

With current testing of donor blood, the risk of you getting an infection from a transfusion is extremely low. For HIV, the estimated risk is one occurrence in 2.3 million transfusions. Hepatitis B risk is estimated at one in 1 million transfusions; for Hepatitis C, the risk is one in 1.8 million.

A patient can experience immediate reactions during or within hours of transfusion. Sometimes reactions can be delayed, occurring days or weeks afterward. The most common reactions are usually not serious, and can include hives and itching or fever and chills. Both are readily treatable.

In rare cases more serious reactions can occur, including: shortness of breath, change in blood pressure, bacterial transmission, kidney damage and others. They can also include Transfusion-Related Acute Lung Injury (TRALI) – an immune reaction affecting the lungs. Side effects are usually treatable, but in rare cases can be life-threatening. If you have questions about potential reactions, please share them with your medical provider.

Other risks may arise for patients with specific medical conditions. This includes patients with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, newborns, transplant recipients and others. Iron overload can occur in patients who need multiple transfusions. Your medical provider will discuss any risk factors that may apply to you.


When You Need a Transfusion (PDF)

If you have questions contact your physician, or call the Puget Sound Blood Center Transfusion Information Line, at 206-292-1840.