Blood Transfusions: Who Needs Them and Why?

Dr. Ali Ghahary - Blood TransfusionsBlood is a vital part of the human body. It is responsible for the transportation, protection and regulation of different substances; from supplying the body with essential substances and nutrients such as oxygen, sugar and hormones, as well as the removal of waste, in addition to acting as a clotting agent. Without it, our bodies would not be able to properly function.

A large percentage of Canadians have required blood transfusions, and many hospitalized Canadians need blood transfusions every day. Canada has one of the safest blood systems in the world. To ensure that blood donation is safe for the intended recipient, the Canadian Blood Services requires that donors meet certain criteria prior to making their donation. This criteria includes being over the age of 17, meeting certain height and weight requirements, as well as having good overall health. However, it is also important to note that not everyone is eligible to donate blood. To find out whether or not you are eligible, the Canadian Blood Services has a list of the ABC’s of Eligibility on their website at blood.ca.

A blood transfusion can be necessary for a number of reasons, with the most common one being anemia. Anemia can be caused as a result of a severe injury (i.e. from a traumatic event such as a car accident), being iron deficient, having kidney disease, liver disease, having an infection or infections that stop the blood from producing properly, and even certain cancers that cause the blood cells to produce at a decreased rate, such as lymphoma or leukemia. A patient may also require a blood transfusion after surgery due to blood loss.

There are certain risks and complications that can occur as a result of giving blood. For those who are donors, it is not uncommon to notice some local bruising around the area in which the needle was placed. Typically this bruising will go away on its own after a few days. If you are having localized pain, over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen can provide you with some relief. It’s also not uncommon to feel faint/lightheaded after donating blood. To avoid fainting, you will be asked to stay at the blood donor clinic for at least 15 minutes before you are allowed to leave, and may also be asked to eat a light snack. It’s also important to drink additional fluids (at least 16 oz.) for up to 2 days after donating blood.

Similarly, blood recipients are also faced with complications and risks – including allergic reactions, fever, iron overload, and a rare but serious condition known as acute immune hemolytic reaction that causes your body to attack new red blood cells and produce substances that are harmful to your kidneys. When receiving blood, your doctor has weighed the risks and benefits.

If you have any further questions about blood donation, Vancouver physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary, recommends contacting the Canadian Blood Services by calling 1-888-2-DONATE.

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