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Can blood disorders be safely treated with blood transfusions?

Dr. Michael Rosove is a Medical Oncologist in Los Angeles, CA and a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles, School of Medicine.

See all of Michael Rosove, MD's answers.

Everyone is concerned about the viral risk of blood transfusion. Fortunately, blood screening has become extremely effective, and the current risks of contracting HIV or hepatitis C are respectively only about 1/1,000,000 and 1/750,000 per unit transfused. All blood donations are checked; units positive for any virus are discarded. Blood testing is extremely important but remains imperfect. Thus donors' medical and social histories are reviewed to improve the screening process.

Because blood transfusions (including red blood cells, platelets, and plasma) are not absolutely safe, and because multiple units may be required in some cases, transfusion is reserved for times when the risk of not transfusing would be significant, and there isn't enough time for the patient to produce enough of his or her own blood cells or components.

Sometimes, before elective surgery, the doctor will advise a patient to set aside his or her own blood for possible transfusion, referred to as "autologous." Friends or relatives can also donate blood to be used if the blood type is compatible, but this is not necessarily safer than blood from people one doesn't know; even one's closest friends and relations may be reluctant to reveal personal lifestyle information that affects how safe they are as donors.

Medically reviewed on August 08, 2013

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