Blood transfusion is a lifesaving procedure, which began as far back as the 17th century and became revolutionized by Dr Charles Richard Drew, an African American who invented blood banking services. There are several reasons why this procedure may need to be carried out in adults, babies, older children, the elderly and in pregnant women. However, that’s a story for another day. Today we’re going to discuss the dangers of this wonderful procedure and what could happen when the process goes south. However, please be informed, most transfusions tend to go north so don’t be afraid. Ready? Set? Go!
1.Complications arising from the blood itself
These are referred to as blood transfusion reactions. They could occur immediately within minutes or may occur days to weeks later. These could range from sudden fever (hotness of the body), rash and itching, sudden severe low blood pressure and yellowish discolouration of the eyes because of breakdown of red blood cells.
2.Transmission of blood borne infections – Certain infections could be transmitted if the blood is not well screened by regulatory bodies. Hence it’s important to ask if the blood you or a loved one is going to be given has been screened. These infections include HIV, Hepatitis B and C, Malaria and Syphilis. Yup, you can get all these without the bites or the bedroom action.
3.High levels of Potassium in the blood – The risk of this is higher when the blood has been stored for longer. This can affect normal heartbeat and even cause a heart attack (cardiac arrest). Who would have thought those mineral salts that were never emphasised in teaching balanced diets could cause this.
4.Low levels of calcium in the blood. This could also affect the heart and cause stiffening of the hands and feet, convulsions and tingling around the mouth like you’ve been kissed by Poison ivy. Not something you forget in a hurry.
5.Blood stored for a long time tends to become low in cells that stop bleeding. Hence transfusion of several pints (50cl bags) of blood can cause bleeding into skin, bleeding from gums, nostrils etc. and in severe cases, bleeding into the brain. Not cool at all! It’s Kinda like blood, blood everywhere but not a drop in the right place.
6.Transfusion of several pints of blood recurrently can cause iron stores to accumulate in certain organs in the body. It could accumulate to an extent where the organs can’t function properly and could fail.
In modern times, specific blood components are given to correct the deficits observed. Hence in cases of severe low blood level that occurred over a long time, it’s advisable to give only a particular component. Giving whole blood can result in fluids accumulating in the lungs and the heart not getting enough oxygen. Technically, it’s like drowning, only difference is that there’s no pool, bathtub or beach.
7.Some other form of lung injury could occur mediated by the antibodies of the donor. It rarely happens so I wouldn’t bother too much about it if I were you…but then again, I’m not you.
8.Some other complications arise due to the effects of the chemicals used to preserve the blood and prevent it from turning into a bag of red caked mud that’s good for nothing:
Increased acidity of the blood, which impedes normal body function
Some preservatives contain citrate which nourishes the blood cells but binds up calcium and magnesium, making them unavailable for body use.
Dextrose containing preservatives could stimulate release of insulin, which can result in low blood sugar after some time.
If the chemical contains Heparin, this could cause abnormal bleeding. Fortunately, this can be prevented by giving a particular drug.
Transfusions could also increase the blood volume and consequently increase the blood pressure and if it’s not warm enough before transfusion, it could reduce the body temperature below normal values…I would like to state at this point that the purpose of this article is not to scare us but to provide enlightenment on a very important procedure that is often the difference between life and death.