Possible adverse reactions during blood transfusion

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There are several precautions that must be observed to reduce the risk for adverse reactions during a blood transfusion. Before it is started, usually a few hours or even a few days, cross-matching is carried out in which a drop of the donor’s blood is mixed with the recipient to ensure that they are compatible.

After the labels on the bags of blood to be given are double checked, the doctor or nurse provides the blood to the recipient slowly at 1-2 hours of every unit of blood. Since most adverse reactions occur during the initial 15 minutes of the blood transfusion, the individual is closely monitored at first. After this, the individual is checked periodically and the transfusion is stopped if an adverse reaction occurs.

Most transfusions are safe and successful. Nevertheless, minor reactions can occur occasionally and even deadly reactions can occur in rare instances. The usual reactions include fever and allergic reactions while serious ones include lung injury, fluid overload and breakdown of red blood cells due to mismatch between the blood type of the donor and recipient.

What are the possible adverse reactions to a blood transfusion?


This is triggered by a reaction to the transfused white blood cells or chemicals released by the white blood cells. Due to this, many hospitals remove the white blood cells from the transfused blood after it is collected.

Blood transfusion reactions
The indications of an allergic reaction include generalized rash, itchiness, dizziness, swelling and headache.

Aside from the increase in the temperature, the individual experiences chills and oftentimes a headache or back pain. Sometimes, there are symptoms of an allergic reaction such as a rash or itchiness.

Allergic reactions

The indications of an allergic reaction include generalized rash, itchiness, dizziness, swelling and headache. The uncommon symptoms include wheezing, breathing difficulty and urinary incontinence.

If a reaction occurs, the blood transfusions is stopped and the individual is given an antihistamine. In severe reactions, it can be managed using hydrocortisone or even epinephrine.

Fluid overload

The recipient of a blood transfusion might receive more fluid than the body can easily handle. Excess fluid can trigger swelling all over the body or difficulty breathing. Those who have heart disease are at high risk, thus the transfusion is given slowly and monitoring is required.

Lung injury

A rare reaction called as transfusion-related acute lung injury is triggered by antibodies in the plasma of the donor. This reaction can trigger significant breathing difficulties. Many individuals with mild to moderate lung injuries are administered with oxygen and other treatments to support breathing until the lungs heal.

Red blood cell destruction

Even with careful typing and cross-matching of blood, possibility of mismatching due to subtle differences between the donor and recipient blood can still occur. Once this occurs, the body of the recipient destroys the transfused red blood cells right after the transfusion.


Even though careful testing and storage of blood products are carried out, infectious organisms can be transmitted during a blood transfusion. The testing of the blood and the blood donors can keep the transmission of organisms to a minimum. Nevertheless, even testing could not detect the organisms in the blood from a donor who has recently infected.

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