Learning About Blood Transfusions in Children

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What are blood transfusions?

Blood vessel

Blood transfusion is a medical treatment to replace the blood or parts of blood that your child's body has lost. The blood goes through a tube from a bag to an intravenous (IV) catheter and into your child's vein.

Your child may need a blood transfusion after losing blood from an injury, a major surgery, an illness that causes bleeding, or an illness that destroys blood cells.

Transfusions are also used to give your child the parts of blood—such as platelets, plasma, or substances that cause clotting—that your child's body needs to fight an illness.

How is a blood transfusion done?

Before your child receives a blood transfusion, his or her blood is tested to find out what type it is. Blood or blood parts that are a match with your child's blood type are ordered by the doctor. Blood is typed as A, B, AB, or O. It is also typed as Rh-positive or Rh-negative. The blood your child gets is checked and rechecked to make sure that it's the right type.

A sample of your child's blood is mixed with a sample of the blood he or she will receive. This is done to check for problems. Before giving the transfusion, a doctor or nurse will look at the label on the package of blood and compare it to your child's hospital ID bracelet and medical records. The transfusion begins only when all agree that this is the correct blood and that your child is the correct person to receive it.

To receive the transfusion, your child will have an intravenous (IV) catheter inserted into a vein. To place the catheter, the doctor or nurse will use a small needle, which can cause a little pain. To reduce the pain, the nurse may first use a cream or other method to numb your child's skin.

A tube connects the catheter to the bag containing the blood, which is placed higher than your child's body. The blood then flows slowly into your child's vein. A doctor or nurse will check your child several times during the transfusion to watch for a reaction or other problems.

What are the possible risks?

Blood transfusions have many benefits and are often life-saving. But they also have a few risks. Possible risks include:

  • The body's reaction to receiving new blood. This may include:
    • Fever.
    • Allergic reactions.
    • Breathing problems.
  • An infection from the blood. This risk is small because of the strict rules placed on handling and storing blood. Getting a viral infection, such as HIV or hepatitis B or C, through blood transfusions has become very rare. Canadian Blood Services enforces strict guidelines on the collection, testing, storage, and use of blood.
  • Getting the wrong blood type. Severe reactions, which can be life-threatening, are very rare.

What can you expect after a blood transfusion?

Here are some things you can do at home to help prevent infection at the transfusion site:

  • Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water, and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing. You may cover the area with a gauze bandage if it weeps or rubs against clothing. Change the bandage every day.
  • Keep the area clean and dry.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child seems weaker or more tired than usual.
  • Your child has a yellow tint to his or her skin or the whites of the eyes.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if your child has any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Current as of: October 13, 2016