Anemia is a condition in which the body cannot produce enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissues and organs. There are many causes of anemia, the most common being iron deficiency anemia, vitamin deficiency anemia and anemia due to chronic disease, according to MayoClinic.com. Symptoms often include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, chest pain, dizziness and pale skin. A blood transfusion is often necessary in patients who have severe anemia.
The protein hemoglobin carries oxygen in red blood cells. Physicians use a blood test to measure hemoglobin and to help diagnose anemia. The National Institutes of Health explains that normal hemoglobin in women ranges between 12.1 and 15.1 gm/dL and in men ranges from 13.8 to 17.2 gm/dL. When a patient falls slightly below the normal range, a physician may choose iron supplement tablets to help return the patients hemoglobin to normal. This therapy can take up to a year for patients to feel any results. However, when a patient's hemoglobin falls at or below 7-8 mg/dL, physicians often choose a blood transfusion to rapidly replace the missing blood cells.
Approximately 5 million Americans need blood transfusions every year, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. A blood transfusion given for anemia is a common procedure in which a patient receives blood through an intravenous line to replace the missing red blood cells. Before a transfusion, a technician will test the patient's blood to find out what blood type they have. A patient will have a blood type of A, B, O or AB and they will be either Rh-negative or Rh-positive. Once the technician has found the appropriate blood type, a nurse will infuse the blood into the patient's vein and carefully monitor patient's blood pressure pulse and respirations to watch for a reaction. The infusion commonly takes between one and four hours and patients often go home following the infusion if the nurse detects no reaction.
Common Side Effects
Blood transfusions are a common procedure but like any medical procedure, there are risks. Even when blood is a perfect match, a patient may suffer from an allergic reaction if blood triggers the body's immune response. The most common sign of allergic reaction are hives or itching and physicians will commonly treat the reaction with diphenhydramine. Patients may also develop a fever. Physicians often will not stop the transfusion unless the fever is very high and accompanied by shaking and chills, as this may be a sign of infection, according to the MayoClinic.com.
While a technician screens blood thoroughly before the transfusion, there is still a small possibility that a person may contract a bloodborne illness such as HIV, hepatitis B or C, West Nile virus or sepsis. The biggest risk with a blood transfusion is a life-threatening reaction that occurs when a patient receives the wrong blood type. When a patient receives the wrong blood type, the body begins to attack the blood cells as a foreign substance, causing the newly transfused cells to burst. This reaction causes fever, nausea, chills, chest and lower back pain and dark urine. If this reaction occurs, the nurse will stop the blood transfusion immediately.
A blood transfusion for anemia gives the patient a rapid infusion of needed red blood cells, allowing a patient to feel better much more quickly than with iron supplements that can take up to one year to help treat anemia, according to the National Anemia Action Counsil. Patients may need more than one transfusion, depending upon the extent of the anemia.