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A blood transfusion is a treatment arranged by your doctor. It involves giving you blood, or blood components, into a vein.
In New Zealand, blood is obtained only from unpaid and voluntary donors.
Getting a blood transfusion in the hospital can save your life. You may need a lot of blood if you are bleeding heavily because of an injury or illness.
But anaemia is usually not urgent. And usually you don’t need a lot of blood. You may only need one unit of blood while you are in the hospital. Or you may not need any blood at all.
If you have anaemia, your blood doesn’t have enough red blood cells, or the red blood cells don’t work properly. Red blood cells carry haemoglobin. This is an iron-rich protein that helps bring oxygen to the body. Anaemia is measured in haemoglobin levels.
There are a number of reasons you may become anaemic while you are in the hospital, including:
In New Zealand, haemoglobin is measured in grams per litre of blood (g/L).
Some doctors believe that hospital patients whose haemoglobin falls below 100 g/dL should get a blood transfusion.
But recent research found that:
In New Zealand, the blood is generally very safe. The risks when you get blood are very small. They include:
These problems can happen with any transfusion. But the risks are higher if you get more blood.
If you only use the blood you need, you are helping to keep a blood supply for other people.
Most patients do well with just one unit of blood, if the transfusion is not for an emergency. But some people may need more blood. Discuss this with your doctor.
You may need more than one unit if:
If you have questions about your symptoms or the medicines managing your symptoms, speak with your health professional.
For a list of supporting evidence for the issues discussed in this resource, please see:
Developed by Choosing Wisely New Zealand, 2018. Adapted from Consumer Reports (2015) Blood Transfusions for Anaemia in the Hospital and the New Zealand Blood Service (2013) Your Guide to Blood Transfusion. Choosing Wisely does not assume any responsibility or liability arising from any error or omission or from the use of any information in these resources.
This article is part of our content on Choosing Wisely, a campaign encouraging a change in thinking by health professionals and consumers to avoid unnecessary medical intervention.