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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Blood transfusions

Ngā whakawhitinga toto

A blood transfusion is when you're given blood or blood components from blood donors.

In New Zealand, all blood comes from unpaid voluntary donors. Processing and storing blood, and selecting donors is very safe and exceeds international standards.

Specially trained nurses give blood transfusions at the Burwood Infusion Service, which is on the first floor of Burwood Hospital. Doctors are available for support in rare cases of complications.

Most blood transfusions are needed to treat people with moderate to severe anaemia. In these people, their anaemia is likely to be causing symptoms such as shortness of breath, deep fatigue or chest pain.

Blood transfusions are also used to treat blood loss caused by injuries or surgery. There are also several less common uses for blood components.

Most blood transfusions are given to treat anaemia.

Getting a blood transfusion

Your doctor will first check if you're able to have your transfusion at the Burwood Infusion Service. They will then refer you to the service. The service will contact you with an appointment time.

Your doctor will also discuss the treatment with you. They will ask you to sign a consent form to show that you understand the risks and benefits of the treatment.

Some people will need to go to Christchurch Hospital for blood transfusions. These people will have their blood transfusions at the Medical Day Unit.

Before you have the transfusion, you'll need to have a blood test. This tests your blood and makes sure you're given blood that matches your blood type. If you're having your transfusion at the Burwood Infusion Service or Medical Day Unit, you'll need to have this blood test within 48 hours of your transfusion. Your doctor will give you a form to get your blood test done at a testing laboratory.

You're given the blood through a tube that is inserted into your vein using a needle. It takes two to three hours for each unit of blood to go into your body. The doctor will tell you how many units you need.

It's a good idea to have a whānau (family) member come with you to your appointment, especially if you need help. You should take your usual prescribed medications unless your doctor advises otherwise.

Risks and complications

There is a 1 to 2% chance of a minor allergic reaction. This can include a mild fever or skin rash.

A major allergic reaction is rare and happens in around one in 100,000 transfusions. If this happens, it's serious and needs treating in hospital as it can cause kidney damage and breathing difficulties.

There is a risk that the treatment may not relieve the symptoms.

The risk of getting an infection from donated blood is low in New Zealand. The NZ blood service guide to blood transfusion gives more information about this.

Blood transfusions are very safe. If your doctor is recommending that you have one, it's most likely that the benefits outweigh any risks. Not having a transfusion could lead to serious health complications and in some cases death.

Often you will not need any follow up.

Your doctor may want to see you to check your symptoms. They may also want to repeat a blood test to see if your anaemia has improved.

If you start to feel unwell after your transfusion, seek medical attention immediately. Especially if you have symptoms such as shortness of breath, high fever or chest pain.

Alternatives to blood transfusions

One alternative is not to have a transfusion. But the risks of not having a transfusion when you need one far outweigh any risks of having one.

There are no alternatives to blood or blood components for routine use.

It's possible to have your own blood collected so you can use it for non-urgent operations. But there is a charge for this and it has limited benefits. It's only suitable for people who are healthy, so people with anaemia cannot do this.

Blood donations from family members aren't any safer than blood from ordinary donors. The NZ blood service discourages this option.

More information

The guide to blood transfusion from the NZ blood service has more information.

If you have any questions, talk to your doctor or contact the NZ Blood Service.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed February 2023.


Page reference: 527968

Review key: HIBIC-527968