Northside Health Library

Blood transfusions


There are many reasons you may need a blood transfusion:

  • After knee or hip replacement surgery, or other major surgery
  • After a serious injury
  • When your body cannot make enough blood

A blood transfusion is a safe, common procedure in which blood is given to you through an intravenous (IV) line in one of your blood vessels. It takes 1 - 4 hours to receive the blood, depending on how much you need

If you need a blood transfusion, there are several sources of blood. You may be able to receive:

  • Donor blood from the general public, after it has been closely matched to yours.
  • Blood from a relative or friend, if their blood matches yours. This is known as direct blood donation.
  • Blood that you have donated weeks before a surgery that is then stored for you, in case you need a transfusion. This is called autologous blood donation.

Blood from the Public (Volunteer Blood Donation)

The most common source of blood given is from volunteers in the general public.

Many communities have a blood bank at which any healthy person can donate their blood. This blood will be tested to see if it matches yours.

You may have read about the danger of becoming infected with hepatitis, HIV, or other viruses after a blood transfusion. Blood transfusions can never be 100% safe. However, the current blood supply is thought to be safer now than it ever was before.

Any donor answers a detailed list of questions about their health and risk factors for infection before they are allowed to donate.

  • Donors answer very direct questions about risk factors for infections that can be passed on through their blood. This includes sexual practices or habits, drug use, and current and past travel history.
  • Blood centers keep a list of donors who may not be safe.
  • Donated blood is tested for many different infections.

Directed Donor Blood (Blood from a Family Member or Friend)

This method involves getting a family member or friend to donate blood before a planned surgery. This blood is then set aside and held only for you, if you need a blood transfusion after surgery.

Most of the time, you will need to make arrangements with your hospital or local blood bank before your sugary to have directed donor blood.

Blood donated from these people must be collected at least a few days before it is needed. Their blood is carefully screened for infection.

It is important to note that there is no evidence that receiving blood from family members or friends is any safer than receiving blood from the general public.

Autologous Blood Donation (Blood from Yourself)

Although the blood donated by the general public and used for most people is thought to be very safe, some people choose to use a method called autologous blood donation.

Autologous blood is blood donated by you which you can later receive if you need a transfusion during or after surgery.


Blood and blood products. Rockville, MD. US Food and Drug Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services: 2009. Accessed 6/1/2010 at

Goodnough LT, Monk TG. Autologous transfusion, recombinant factor vila, and bloodless medicine. In: Miller RD, Eriksson LI, Fleisher LA, Wiener-Kronish JP, Young WL, eds.Miller's Anesthesia. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 57.

Review Date: 8/12/2011
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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