Blood Transfusions

Blood is our lifeline and without it our bodies would cease to function. Every human body has approximately 5 liters of blood that travels through their veins. Blood provides an essential function. It is because of blood that oxygen is able to travel from our lungs to our body tissues. In turn, carbon dioxide is carried from our tissues to our lungs. Our health, life, and growth are all dependent of having an adequate supply of blood. Thus, when a person sustains a serious injury that results in blood loss or has a disorder which affects blood production, a sudden deterioration in health may occur. All blood is not the same. In fact, there are four major types of blood. Additionally, there are four main components of blood. These include:

Red blood cells: Red blood cells, which are the most common type of blood, transports oxygen throughout the body, and are the components that give blood its reddish color.

White blood cells: The responsibility of white blood cells is to protect the body against viruses, infections, and diseases.

Plasma: Plasma is a liquid, salt solution which includes antibiotics and proteins to help blood clot after an injury.

Platelets: Platelets and plasma work hand-in-hand in the clotting process. However, platelets are the main clotting component. Without it, a person will bleed to death.

When the human body suffers an injury that results in blood loss, it is not a life threatening situation as long as the blood begins to clot. Although persons may feel weak or lightheaded after losing a large amount of blood, this feeling will eventually pass because the body continually produces blood to replace blood that was loss. Of course, there are situations when a person experiences an injury or undergoes a surgical procedure that results in severe loss of blood. In these instances, physicians and surgeons will likely suggest a blood transfusion. Blood transfusions are not a new procedure. Yet, many are hesitant to receive a transfusion, even in a life or death situation. Reasons for refusing a transfusion could be due to religion, fear, or the risk associated with transfusions.

What is a Blood Transfusion?

Blood transfusions involve taking blood donated by one person and inserting it into the body of another person. Transfusions are very similar to organ transplants given that they are intended to save a life. The first blood transfusion was preformed in 1667. However, this surgical procedure did not have a happy ending. The physician, Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys, transfused the blood of a sheep into a young boy. The boy who received the sheep’s blood died, and the doctor was charged with his death. The first successful blood transfusion did not occur until nearly 200 years later in 1818. By this time, doctors had discovered that mixing blood types posed serious health threats. Thus, it was required that donors and transfused patients have the same or matching blood type.

Who Receives Blood Transfusions?

Blood transfusions are preformed on individual who experience a massive loss of blood. This blood loss could be the result of trauma from an accident, complications during surgery, or blood diseases which prevent the normal production of red blood cells.

Diseases of this sort include sickle cell anemia, hemolytic anemia, and aplastic anemia. It is estimate that nearly 38,000 units of blood are needed on any given day. Moreover, each year there is approximately 30 million units of blood transfused. Blood donors include people of all sexes, races, and age groups. According to studies, white males between the ages of 30 and 50 donate the most blood. Adults over the age of 69 donate the least.

There are certain criteria’s for donating blood. Persons who choose to donate blood must be at least 17 years old, 110 lbs, and in good health. Of course, when it comes to a person health, the honor system is not in effect. Before advanced screening, persons infected with diseases would donate blood. Thus, a number of people who received blood transfusions contracted illnesses such as HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, and syphilis. Today, all blood donors are required to pass a medical assessment which includes a discussion about medical history and a physical examination. Despite medical advancement that improves blood screening, blood transfusions are not always safe. Fortunately, there are realistic alternatives to blood transfusions.

Risk Factors Associated with Blood Transfusions

Blood transfusions have resulted in severe, life-threatening complications. Even with advanced screening, there is no fool-proof way to ensure that a transfusion will be safe. Diseases that are transmitted through blood include AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome which causes slow deterioration of the immune system), HIV (virus that causes AIDS), Hepatitis B and C (infection that leads to chronic inflammation of the liver), and syphilis (sexually transmitted infection). An additional risk associated with blood transfusions is supplying the wrong type of blood. Blood mixing is a fatal mistake that occurs more often than realized. Other complications may include infection, respiratory distress syndrome, allergic reaction, and fluid overload.

Blood Alternatives

Surprisingly, millions of people are saying “no” to blood transfusion. Individuals affiliated with some religious groups have taken a stand against transfusions. However, people who are not affiliated with a religious denomination or group are also willing to consider alternatives to blood transfusions. Blood alternatives include:

Volume expanders: When the body loses an extreme amount of blood, it goes into shock. Volume expanders consist of saline salt water solutions which are intended to provide the body with sufficient fluid. The solution dilutes blood and allows it to continuously flow through veins until a person’s body replenishes red blood cells.

Blood salvage: This procedure involves removing a portion of a person’s own blood prior to surgery. This blood is stored. Thus, if complications occur during surgery, in which a patient requires a transfusion, their own blood is inserted back into the body.

Epoetin alpha: A hormone that may be injected into person’s who suffer from blood diseases that affect the production of healthy red blood cells. This stimulates the body to increase their production of blood cells.

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