Your doctor has told you that you need a blood transfusion and perhaps you do not understand why. There are different types of blood components that are transfused in anemia, trauma, clotting abnormalities and chronic blood loss. A few other conditions also warrant a transfusion. Each component has its own reasons for being transfused.
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Whole Blood Transfusion Reasons
One reason for a whole blood transfusion is for a baby receiving a complete exchange transfusion. Otherwise, whole bags of donor blood are rarely transfused. The blood is broken down into components for ease of storage and use. A blood center processes a donor unit and distributes the various components to area hospitals and clinics for specific transfusion reasons.
Packed Red Blood Cells Transfusion Reasons
Packed red blood cell transfusions are given to increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of the patient’s blood. There may be several reasons why your blood supply is low. You may have a low hemoglobin and hematocrit reading (anemia), loss of blood during surgery or trauma, or bleeding internally in the intestines. The loss of blood may be sudden (acute) or slow (chronic). A packed red blood cell transfusion is almost always necessary for a blood loss of more than 30 percent. Transfusions are indicated when the blood pressure decreases and the heart rate increases during an episode of bleeding. Chronic anemia patients may not need a blood transfusion if they are not showing symptoms of a crisis. Chronic anemia should be treated with methods other than transfusions.
Patients with coronary artery disease may also need a transfusion. It has been shown that this will increase heart function and produce a better recovery rate than patients with this disease who are not transfused.
Fresh Frozen Plasma Transfusion Reasons
You may need a fresh frozen plasma transfusion for an overdose of coumadin, warfarin or other blood thinners. Blood thinners don’t actually thin blood; they inactivate certain clotting factors that cause your blood to clot too easily. To check your clotting factors, a doctor will order lab tests such as the Prothrombin Time (PT) or the Activated Partial Thromboplastin Time (APTT). If these results are abnormal, you will need a fresh frozen plasma transfusion. Fresh frozen plasma is the top part of a donor unit after the cells are “packed.” It is a yellowish fluid that contains clotting factors.
Platelets are the little cells in your blood that form a scab when you get a scrape or small cut. Circulating platelets can get used up in certain situations like a severe trauma, a complicated nose bleed, or if you are taking drugs for cancer. Platelets are also affected by aspirin and some prescription drugs. Your doctor should tell you if you are on one of the platelet inactivating drugs as it is dangerous for you if you are injured. A platelet transfusion will replace your missing or inactivated platelets so you can stop bleeding.
Another component of donor plasma is a clotting factor known as Cryoprecipitate (Cryo). Cryo is most often transfused to replace specific clotting factors. Factor VIII deficiency and Factor XIII deficiency are part of the coagulation cascade and can be genetically missing or damaged and must be replaced artificially. Von Willebrand disease, low fibrinogen levels, and Hemophilia A are other types of clotting factor deficiencies.
White Blood Cell Transfusion
A white blood cell transfusion is rare. It is reserved for patients with a very low white blood cell count, and an infection unresponsive to the appropriate antibiotics. White blood cells can trigger allergic reactions and antibody formation to the foreign cells.