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Blood transfusion is the process of transferring blood or blood-based products from one person into the circulatory system of another. Blood transfusions can be life-saving in some situations, such as massive blood loss due to trauma, or can be used to replace blood lost during surgery. Blood transfusions may also be used to treat a severe anaemia or thrombocytopenia caused by a blood disease. People suffering from hemophilia or sickle-cell disease may require frequent blood transfusions. Early transfusions used whole blood, but modern medical practice commonly uses only components of the blood.


Early attempts

The first historical attempt at blood transfusion was described by the 15th-century chronicler Stefano Infessura. Infessura relates that, in 1492, as Pope Innocent VIII sank into a coma, the blood of three boys was infused into the dying pontiff (through the mouth, as the concept of circulation and methods for intravenous access did not exist at that time) at the suggestion of a physician. The boys were ten years old, and had been promised a ducat each. However, not only did the pope die, but so did the three children. Some authors have discredited Infessura's account, accusing him of anti-papalism.

World War II syringe for direct interhuman blood transfusion

Beginning with Harvey's experiments with circulation of the blood, more sophisticated research into blood transfusion began in the 17th century, with successful experiments in transfusion between animals. However, successive attempts on humans continued to have fatal results.

The first fully documented human blood transfusion was administered by Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys, eminent physician to King Louis XIV of France, on June 15, 1667. He transfused the blood of a sheep into a 15-year old boy, who survived the transfusion. Denys performed another transfusion into a labourer, who also survived. Both instances were likely due to the small amount of blood that was actually transfused into these people. This allowed them to withstand the allergic reaction. Denys' third patient to undergo a blood transfusion was Swedish Baron Bonde. He received two transfusions. After the second transfusion Bonde died. In the winter of 1667, Denys performed several transfusions on Antoine Mauroy with calf's blood, who on the third account died. Much controversy surrounded his death. Mauroy's wife asserted Denys was responsible for her husband's death. But Mauroy's wife was accused of causing his death. Though it was later determined that Mauroy actually died from arsenic poisoning, Denys' experiments with animal blood provoked a heated controversy in France. Finally, in 1670 the procedure was banned. In time, the British Parliament and even the pope followed suit. Blood transfusions fell into obscurity for the next 150 years.

First successful transfusion

Christian Zagado examined the effects of changes in blood volume on circulatory function and developed methods for cross-circulatory study in animals, obviating clotting by closed arteriovenous connections. His newly devised instruments eventually led to actual transfusion of blood.

"Many of his colleagues were present. towards the end of February 1665 [when he] selected one dog of medium size, opened its jugular vein, and drew off blood, until . . . its strength was nearly gone . Then, to make up for the great loss of this dog by the blood of a second, I introduced blood from the cervical artery of a fairly large mastiff, which had been fastened alongside the first, until this latter animal showed . . . it was overfilled . . . by the inflowing blood." After he "sewed up the jugular veins," the animal recovered "with no sign of discomfort or of displeasure."

Lower had performed the first blood transfusion between animals. He was then "requested by the Honorable [Robert] Boyle . . . to acquaint the Royal Society with the procedure for the whole experiment," which he did in December of 1665 in the Society’s Philosophical Transactions. On 15 June 1667 Denys, then a professor in Paris, carried out the first transfusion between humans and claimed credit for the technique, but Lower’s priority cannot be challenged.

Six months later in London, Lower performed the first human transfusion in Britain, where he "superintended the introduction in [a patient’s] arm at various times of some ounces of sheep’s blood at a meeting of the Royal Society, and without any inconvenience to him." The recipient was Arthur Coga, "the subject of a harmless form of insanity." Sheep’s blood was used because of speculation about the value of blood exchange between species; it had been suggested that blood from a gentle lamb might quiet the tempestuous spirit of an agitated person and that the shy might be made outgoing by blood from more sociable creatures. Lower wanted to treat Coga several times, but his patient refused. No more transfusions were performed. Shortly before, Lower had moved to London, where his growing practice soon led him to abandon research. [13433]

The first successes

The science of blood transfusion dates to the first decade of the 19th century, with the discovery of distinct blood types leading to the practice of mixing some blood from the donor and the receiver before the transfusion (an early form of cross-matching).

In 1818, Dr. James Blundell, a British obstetrician, performed the first successful blood transfusion of human blood, for the treatment of postpartum hemorrhage. He used the patient's husband as a donor, and extracted four ounces of blood from his arm to transfuse into his wife. During the years 1825 and 1830, Dr. Blundell performed 10 transfusions, five of which were beneficial, and published his results. He also invented many instruments for the transfusion of blood. He made a substantial amount of money from this endeavour, roughly $50 million (about $2 million in 1827) real dollars .

In 1840, at St George's Hospital Medical School in London, Samuel Armstrong Lane, aided by Dr. Blundell, performed the first successful whole blood transfusion to treat hemophilia.

George Washington Crile is credited with performing the first surgery using a direct blood transfusion at the Cleveland Clinicmarker.

Many patients had died and it was not until 1901, when the Austrian Karl Landsteiner discovered human blood groups, that blood transfusions became safer. Mixing blood from two individuals can lead to blood clumping or agglutination. The clumped red cells can crack and cause toxic reactions, which can have fatal consequences. Karl Landsteiner discovered that blood clumping was an immunological reaction which occurs when the receiver of a blood transfusion has antibodies (A, B, both A & B, or neither) against the donor blood cells. Karl Landsteiner's work made it possible to determine blood groups (A, B, AB, O) and thus paved the way for blood transfusions to be carried out safely. For this discovery he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1930.

Development of blood banking

While the first transfusions had to be made directly from donor to receiver before coagulation, in the 1910s it was discovered that by adding anticoagulant and refrigerating the blood it was possible to store it for some days, thus opening the way for blood banks. The first non-direct transfusion was performed on March 27, 1914 by the Belgianmarker doctor Albert Hustin, who used sodium citrate as an anticoagulant. The first blood transfusion using blood that had been stored and cooled was performed on January 1, 1916. Oswald Hope Robertson, a medical researcher and U.S. Army officer, is generally credited with establishing the first blood bank while serving in Francemarker during World War I.

The first academic institution devoted to the science of blood transfusion was founded by Alexander Bogdanov in Moscowmarker in 1925. Bogdanov was motivated, at least in part, by a search for eternal youth, and remarked with satisfaction on the improvement of his eyesight, suspension of balding, and other positive symptoms after receiving 11 transfusions of whole blood.

In fact, following the death of Vladimir Lenin, Bogdanov was entrusted with the study of Lenin's brain, with a view toward resuscitating the deceased Bolshevik leader. Tragically, but perhaps not unforeseeably, Bogdanov lost his life in 1928 as a result of one of his experiments, when the blood of a student suffering from malaria and tuberculosis was given to him in a transfusion. Some scholars (e.g. Loren Graham) have speculated that his death may have been a suicide, while others attribute it to blood type incompatibility, which was still incompletely understood at the time.

The modern era

Following Bogdanov's lead, the Soviet Unionmarker set up a national system of blood banks in the 1930s. News of the Soviet experience traveled to America, where in 1937 Bernard Fantus, director of therapeutics at the Cook County Hospitalmarker in Chicagomarker, established the first hospital blood bank in the United States. In creating a hospital laboratory that preserved and stored donor blood, Fantus originated the term "blood bank". Within a few years, hospital and community blood banks were established across the United Statesmarker.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Dr. Charles R. Drew's research led to the discovery that blood could be separated into blood plasma and red blood cells, and that the plasma could be frozen separately. Blood stored in this way lasted longer and was less likely to become contaminated.

Another important breakthrough came in 1939-40 when Karl Landsteiner, Alex Wiener, Philip Levine, and R.E. Stetson discovered the Rhesus blood group system, which was found to be the cause of the majority of transfusion reactions up to that time. Three years later, the introduction by J.F. Loutit and Patrick L. Mollison of acid-citrate-dextrose (ACD) solution, which reduces the volume of anticoagulant, permitted transfusions of greater volumes of blood and allowed longer term storage.

Carl Walter and W.P. Murphy, Jr., introduced the plastic bag for blood collection in 1950. Replacing breakable glass bottles with durable plastic bags allowed for the evolution of a collection system capable of safe and easy preparation of multiple blood components from a single unit of whole blood. Further extending the shelf life of stored blood was an anticoagulant preservative, CPDA-1, introduced in 1979, which increased the blood supply and facilitated resource-sharing among blood banks.

As of 2006, there were about 15 million units of blood transfused per year in the United States.



The key importance of the Rh group is its role in Hemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn. When an Rh negative mother carries a positive fetus, she can become immunized against the Rh antigen. This usually is not important during that pregnancy, but in the following pregnancies she can develop an immune response to the Rh antigen. The mother's immune system can attack the baby's red cells through the placenta. Mild cases of HDFN can lead to disability but some severe cases are fatal. Rh-D is the most commonly involved red cell antigen in HDFN, but other red cell antigens can also cause the condition. The "positive" or "negative" in heard blood types such as "O positive" is the Rh-D antigen.

Transfusion Transmitted Infections

A number of infectious diseases (such as HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, among others) can be passed from the donor to recipient.

Among the diseases than can be transmitted via transfusion are: When a person's need for a transfusion can be anticipated, as in the case of scheduled surgery, autologous donation can be used to protect against disease transmission and eliminate the problem of blood type compatibility. "Directed" donations from donors known to the recipient were a common practice during the initial years of HIV. These kinds of donations are still common in developing countries.

Processing of blood prior to transfusion

Donated blood is usually subjected to processing after it is collected, to make it suitable for use in specific patient populations. Examples include:
  • Component separation: red cells, plasma and platelets are separated into different containers and stored in appropriate conditions so that their use can be adapted to the patient's specific needs. Red cells work as oxygen transporters, plasma is used as a supplement of coagulation factors, and platelets are transfused when their number is very scarce or their function severely impaired. Blood components are usually prepared by centrifugation.
  • Leukoreduction, also known as Leukodepletion is the removal of white blood cells from the blood product by filtration. Leukoreduced blood is less likely to cause alloimmunization (development of antibodies against specific blood types), and less likely to cause febrile transfusion reactions.
    • Chronically transfused patients
    • Potential transplant recipients
    • Patients with previous febrile nonhemolytic transfusion reaction
    • Patients with hereditary immune deficiencies
    • Patients receiving blood transfusions from relatives in directed-donation programs
    • Patients receiving large doses of chemotherapy, undergoing stem cell transplantation, or with AIDS (controversial).

Neonatal transfusion

To ensure the safety of blood transfusion to pediatric patients, hospitals are taking additional precaution to avoid infection and prefer to use specially tested pediatric blood units that are guaranteed negative for Cytomegalovirus. Most guidelines recommend the provision of CMV-negative blood components and not simply leukoreduced components for newborns or low birthweight infants in whom the immune system is not fully developed. These specific requirements place additional restrictions on blood donors who can donate for neonatal use. Neonatal transfusions are usually top-up transfusions, exchange transfusions, partial exchange transfusions. Top-up transfusions are for investigational losses and correction of mild degrees of anemias, up to 5-15 ml/kg. Exchange transfusions are done for correction of anemia, removal of bilirubin, removal of antibodies and replacement of red cells. Ideally plasma-reduced red cells that are not older than 5 days are used.

A. If an exchange transfusion is necessary, compatible blood must be ordered. If a severely affected ( i.e. hydropic) infant with Rh hemolytic disease is anticipated at birth, it may be necessary to have blood available in the nursery prior to the delivery. The request should be for O negative packed red blood cells of the specific volume needed and of the appropriate CMV status. This blood may be utilized in any one of the following ways:1. The RBC's may be given as a simple transfusion (with or without additional Plasmanate) while stabilization of the infant is accomplished.2. The RBC's may be used for a partial exchange transfusion to acutely elevate the hematocrit without changing the blood volume in a severely anemic baby.

B. When the need for an emergency, complete exchange transfusion is virtually certain, arrangements can be made in advance for O negative whole blood or O negative PRBC's resuspended in fresh frozen plasma.

C. For double-volume exchange transfusions for hemolytic disease of the newborn or for hyperbilirubinemia without hemolysis, the blood used will be packed cells (type O, Rh specific for the infant) resuspended to the desired hematocrit in compatible fresh frozen plasma.

D. A partial exchange transfusion is often done for polycythemia (see section on polycythemia).

II. Although the standard anticoagulant (CPD) is acidic, the blood need not be buffered. If the infant is severely acidemic, consult the staff neonatologist.

III. If possible, the infant should be NPO and the stomach contents aspirated prior to the procedure.

IV. The exchange transfusion should be done under a radiant warmer using sterile technique.

V. The donor blood should be warmed using the blood warmer to a temperature not exceeding 37oC.

VI. The infants blood pressure, respiratory rate, heart rate and general condition should be monitored during the exchange transfusion according to standard nursing protocol.

VII. If the serum bilirubin concentration is at a dangerous level and the blood for exchange transfusion is not yet ready, consider priming the infant with 1 gram/kg (4 ml/kg) of a 25% solution of salt-poor albumin to bind additional bilirubin and keep it in the circulation until the exchange can be accomplished..

VIII. The umbilical vein catheter should be inserted until there is free flow of blood immediately prior to starting the exchange transfusion. See section on placement of umbilical catheters for technique. The exchange transfusion should not be done through an umbilical artery line unless the UAC is used only for blood withdrawal with simultaneous replacement through the umbilical vein or peripheral IV. At the beginning of the exchange transfusion, the first blood sample withdrawn should be sent for 1)total and direct bilirubin; 2) hemoglobin and hematocrit; 3) glucose; and 4) calcium.

IX. Use the "exchange transfusion kit", which contains catheters, stopcocks, waste bag, and calcium gluconate.

X. Ideally, blood (or colloid in the event of a partial volume exchange) should be infused through a peripheral vein at a rate equal to blood withdrawal from the UVC. If the "push-pull" (single catheter) technique is utilized, no more than 5 ml/kg body weight should be withdrawn at any one time.

XI. The exchange volume is generally twice the infant's blood volume, (generally estimated to be 80 ml/kg). The total volume exchange should not exceed one adult unit of blood (450-500 ml). A standard two-volume exchange will remove approximately 85% of the red cells in circulation before the exchange and reduce the serum indirect bilirubin level by one-half. The exchange of blood should require a minimum of 45 minutes.

XII. The need for giving supplemental calcium is controversial. If used give 0.5 to 1.0 ml of 10% calcium gluconate IV, after each 100 ml of exchange blood. Monitor heart rate for bradycardia.

XIII. At the end of an exchange transfusion blood should be sent for sodium, glucose, calcium, total and direct bilirubin, and hemoglobin and hematocrit.

XIV. At the end of an exchange transfusion, the umbilical vein catheter is usually removed. In the event of a subsequent exchange, a new catheter can be inserted.

XV. Hypoglycemia often occurs in the first or second hour following an exchange transfusion. It is therefore necessary to monitor blood glucose levels for the first several hours after exchange.

XVI. The serum bilirubin concentration rebounds to a value approximately halfway between the pre- and post- exchange levels by two hours after completing the exchange transfusion. Therefore, the serum bilirubin concentration should be monitored at two to four hours after exchange and subsequently every three to four hours.

XVII. Feedings may be attempted two to four hours after the exchange transfusion.


The terms type and screen are used for the testing that (1) determines the blood group (ABO compatibility) and (2) screens for alloantibodies. It takes about 45 minutes to complete (depending on the method used). The blood bank technologist also checks for special requirements of the patient (eg. need for washed, irradiated or CMV negative blood) and the history of the patient to see if they have a previously identified antibody.

A positive screen warrants an antibody panel/investigation. An antibody panel consists of commercially prepared group O red cell suspensions from donors that have been phenotyped for commonly encountered and clinically significant alloantibodies. Donor cells may have homozygous (e.g. K+k-), heterozygous (K+k+) expression or no expression of various antigens (K-k+). The phenotypes of all the donor cells being tested are shown in a chart. The patient's serum is tested against the various donor cells using an enhancement method, eg Gel or LISS. Based on the reactions of the patient's serum against the donor cells, a pattern will emerge to confirm the presence of one or more antibodies. Not all antibodies are clinically significant (i.e. cause transfusion reactions, HDN, etc). Once the patient has developed a clinically significant antibody it is vital that the patient receive antigen negative phenotyped red blood cells to prevent future transfusion reactions. A direct antiglobulin test (DAT) is also performed as part of the antibody investigation.

Once the type and screen has been completed, potential donor units will be selected based on compatibility with the patient's blood group, special requirements (eg CMV negative, irradiated or washed) and antigen negative (in the case of an antibody). If there is no antibody present or suspected, the immediate spin or CAC (computer assisted crossmatch) method may be used.

In the immediate spin method, two drops of patient serum are tested against a drop of 3-5% suspension of donor cells in a test tube and spun in a serofuge. Agglutination or hemolysis in the test tube is a positive reaction and the unit should not be transfused.

If an antibody is suspected, potential donor units must first be screened for the corresponding antigen by phenotyping them. Antigen negative units are then tested against the patient plasma using an antiglobulin/indirect crossmatch technique at 37 degrees Celsius to enhance reactivity and make the test easier to read.

If there is no time the blood is called "uncross-matched blood". Uncross-matched blood is O-positive or O-negative. O-negative is usually used for children and women of childbearing age. It is preferable for the laboratory to obtain a pre-transfusion sample in these cases so a type and screen can be performed to determine the actual blood group of the patient and to check for alloantibodies.


Blood transfusions can be grouped into two main types depending on their source:
  • Homologous transfusions, or transfusions using the stored blood of others. These are often called Allogeneic instead of homologous.
  • Autologous transfusions, or transfusions using the patient's own stored blood.

Donor units of blood must be kept refrigerated to prevent bacterial growth and to slow cellular metabolism. The transfusion must begin within 30 minutes after the unit has been taken out of controlled storage.

Blood can only be administered intravenously. It therefore requires the insertion of a cannula of suitable caliber.

Before the blood is administered, the personal details of the patient are matched with the blood to be transfused, to minimize risk of transfusion reactions. Clerical error is a significant source of transfusion reactions and attempts have been made to build redundancy into the matching process that takes place at the bedside.

A unit (up to 500 ml) is typically administered over 4 hours. In patients at risk of congestive heart failure, many doctors administer a diuretic to prevent fluid overload, a condition called Transfusion Associated Circulatory Overload or TACO. Acetaminophen and/or an antihistamine such as diphenhydramine are sometimes given before the transfusion to prevent other types of transfusion reactions.

Blood donation

Blood is most commonly donated as whole blood by inserting a catheter into a vein and collecting it in a plastic bag (mixed with anticoagulant) via gravity. Collected blood is then separated into components to make the best use of it. Aside from red blood cells, plasma, and platelets, the resulting blood component products also include albumin protein, clotting factor concentrates, cryoprecipitate, fibrinogen concentrate, and immunoglobulins (antibodies). Red cells, plasma and platelets can also be donated individually via a more complex process called apheresis.

In developed countries, donations are usually anonymous to the recipient, but products in a blood bank are always individually traceable through the whole cycle of donation, testing, separation into components, storage, and administration to the recipient. This enables management and investigation of any suspected transfusion related disease transmission or transfusion reaction. In developing countries the donor is sometimes specifically recruited by or for the recipient, typically a family member, and the donation immediately before the transfusion.

Risks to the recipient

There are risks associated with receiving a blood transfusion, and these must be balanced against the benefit which is expected. The most common adverse reaction to a blood transfusion is a febrile non-hemolytic transfusion reaction, which consists of a fever which resolves on its own and causes no lasting problems or side effects.

Hemolytic reactions include chills, headache, backache, dyspnea, cyanosis, chest pain, tachycardia and hypotension.

Blood products can rarely be contaminated with bacteria; the risk of severe bacterial infection and sepsis is estimated, as of 2002, at about 1 in 50,000 platelet transfusions, and 1 in 500,000 red blood cell transfusions.

There is a risk that a given blood transfusion will transmit a viral infection to its recipient. As of 2006, the risk of acquiring hepatitis B via blood transfusion in the United Statesmarker is about 1 in 250,000 units transfused, and the risk of acquiring HIV or hepatitis C in the U.S. via a blood transfusion is estimated at 1 per 2 million units transfused. These risks were much higher in the past before the advent of second and third generation tests for transfusion transmitted diseases. The implementation of Nucleic Acid Testing or "NAT" in the early 2000s has further reduced risks, and confirmed viral infections by blood transfusion are extremely rare in the developed world.

Transfusion-associated acute lung injury (TRALI) is an increasingly recognized adverse event associated with blood transfusion. TRALI is a syndrome of acute respiratory distress, often associated with fever, non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema, and hypotension, which may occur as often as 1 in 2000 transfusions. Symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening, but most patients recover fully within 96 hours, and the mortality rate from this condition is less than 10%.. Although the cause of TRALI is not clear, it has been consistently associated with anti HLA antibodies. Because anti HLA strongly correlate with pregnancy, several transfusion organisations (Blood and Tissues Bank of Cantabria, Spain, National Health Service in Britain) have decided to use only plasma from men for transfusion.

Other risks associated with receiving a blood transfusion include volume overload, iron overload (with multiple red blood cell transfusions), transfusion-associated graft-vs.-host disease, anaphylactic reactions (in people with IgA deficiency), and acute hemolytic reactions (most commonly due to the administration of mismatched blood types).

Transformation from one type to another

Scientists working at the University of Copenhagen reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology in April 2007 of discovering enzymes, which potentially enable blood from groups A, B and AB to be converted into group O. These enzymes do not affect the Rh group of the blood.

Objections to blood transfusion

Objections to blood transfusions may arise for personal, medical, or religious reasons. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses object to blood transfusion primarily on religious grounds - they believe that blood is sacred; although they have also highlighted possible complications associated with transfusion.

Animal blood transfusion

Veterinarians also administer transfusions to animals. Various species require different levels of testing to ensure a compatible match. For example, cats have 3 known blood types, cattle have 11, dogs have 12, pigs 16 and horses have 34. However, in many species (especially horses and dogs), cross matching is not required before the first transfusion, as antibodies against non-self cell surface antigens are not expressed constitutively - i.e. the animal has to be sensitized before it will mount an immune response against the transfused blood.

The rare and experimental practice of inter-species blood transfusions is a form of xenograft.

Blood transfusion substitutes

As of 2009, there are no widely utilized oxygen-carrying blood substitutes for humans; however, there are widely available non-blood volume expanders and other blood-saving techniques. These are helping doctors and surgeons avoid the risks of disease transmission and immune suppression, address the chronic blood donor shortage, and address the concerns of Jehovah's Witnesses and others who have religious objections to receiving transfused blood.

A number of blood substitutes are currently in the clinical evaluation stage. Most attempts to find a suitable alternative to blood thus far have concentrated on cell-free hemoglobin solutions. Blood substitutes could make transfusions more readily available in emergency medicine and in pre-hospital EMS care. If successful, such a blood substitute could save many lives, particularly in trauma where massive blood loss results. Hemopure, a hemoglobin-based therapy, is approved for use in South Africa.

See also


Academic resources

  • Transfusion, ISSN: 1537-2995 (electronic) 0041-1132 (paper)

External links

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