Patient Information - PBM

Blood transfusions are an important part of healthcare. In 2013 at Capital Health, more than 13,000 units of red blood cells and over 18,000 blood components were given to people who needed them!

Receiving blood in Canada is very safe and there is little risk of complications from transfusions. While most people who are hospitalized won’t need a blood transfusion, your doctor feels that it is important for you to be informed about blood transfusions and blood products.

What is blood?

Although it seems to be a simple fluid, blood is complicated. Three major types of cells float within the plasma, the fluid portion:

  • Red blood cells - These cells are red and give blood its characteristic colour. These cells contain hemoglobin which carries oxygen from the lungs to all the other parts of the body.
  • White Blood Cells - There are several types of white blood cells and are important in fighting infections.
  • Platelets - These are the smallest of the blood cells. When injuries occur to the blood vessels, platelets act to “plug the hole” in the blood vessel and stop the bleeding.
  • Plasma - The plasma also contains three types of proteins, including:
  • Albumin is the most common type of protein in the plasma. It is made by the liver. It carries nutrients and hormones around the body.
  • Immunoglobulins (also known as antibodies) are proteins that recognize foreign organisms that have invaded the body. They destroy these “germs”.
  • Clotting Factors are a group of proteins that help stop bleeding when we are injured.

What is a blood transfusion?

A blood transfusion is donated blood given to patients with abnormal blood levels. The patient may have abnormal blood levels due to blood loss from trauma or surgery, or as a result of certain medical problems. Whole blood is separated into its different parts or components (plasma and cells) and products (the plasma part is sent to a drug manufacturer to be made into products) shortly after it is collected from donors at Canadian Blood Services.

Blood Components Examples

  • Red blood cells
  • Platelets
  • Plasma
  • Cryoprecipitate.

This way, you only receive what you need! When people talk about “blood transfusions” they mean transfusions of red blood cells. However, in reality red blood cells account for only 40 per cent of what is in blood - the rest is plasma and platelets.

Doses of red blood cells, plasma and platelets for transfusion are packaged in special bags made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Each dose is referred to as a unit. Red blood cell, plasma and platelet transfusions are given through an intravenous tube in your arm.

Blood Products

Your doctor may recommend that you receive a blood product. This may be in addition to, or instead of, a blood transfusion. Blood products are medications that are made from human blood. Blood products are also called fractionation or plasma products. Blood products commonly prescribed for patients in the hospital include:

  • Albumin is a protein made by the liver and is transfused to patients with burns or low blood pressure.
  • Intravenous Immune Globulin (IVIG) is a solution that contains high levels of immunoglobulin (antibodies). Like albumin, this product is made from blood. It is given to people who don’t have enough antibodies of their own to prevent infections and to patients who have low immunity. There are many other reasons that your doctor may order IVIG for you. Like albumin, IVIG is specially treated to fight off any disease-causing viruses.
  • Rh Immune Globulin, also called WinRho®, is a solution containing high levels of a special antibody. It may be given to pregnant Rh Negative women in week 28 of their pregnancy and after they have given birth. It is typically given as an intramuscular (into the muscle) injection. WinRho® may also be given intravenously (by a needle placed into a vein) in selected immune disorders.
  • Clotting Factors. There are some other special immunoglobulin solutions that are used to prevent people from developing a disease after they have been exposed to it. These medications are derived from blood and are used to prevent diseases such as Hepatitis B and chicken pox. They may be given intramuscular or through a needle placed in a vein.
  • Plasma derived medications are made from the plasma portion of the blood.
  • Recombinant medications are made in a laboratory and do not contain any blood.