It is estimated that 5 million patients undergo a blood transfusion every year in America. People need them for all manner of reasons, although nearly all cases are life-saving. The procedure can be performed on people of all age groups.
We will look closely at how you are likely to feel after getting a blood transfusion. Side effects are common, and in most cases are nothing to worry about. However, there have been instances where complications have risen in patients.
It is, therefore, useful to know what signs and symptoms to look out for if you do feel strange after having a blood transfusion. So, let’s delve into this important subject more deeply.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Are the Types of Blood Transfusion?
- 2 When Can Complications Arise from a Blood Transfusion?
- 3 How Long After Blood Transfusion to Feel Better?
What Are the Types of Blood Transfusion?
The procedure involves receiving blood that has been provided by donors that have volunteered to give blood. Volunteers are screened, and extensive tests are performed on donated blood. Most blood transfusions involve transferring specific parts of the blood only; either red blood cells, platelets or plasma. In very rare cases, patients may need an all-in-one transfusion.
Transfers are performed using an intravenous drip (IV line) and can take between one to four hours to complete. The length of time depends on the reason you need a blood transfusion. For example, people that require an emergency transfusion due to a loss of blood or low blood volume will receive blood at a faster rate than a standard procedure.
Red blood transfusions are the most common and usually start slowly. The American Cancer Society says standard procedures take around 4 hours to prevent the blood from becoming damaged and unsafe. Other common transfusions are plasma and platelets which take approximately 30-60 minute to transfuse one unit. Platelets are commonly used to treat leukemia patients. They help to clot the blood collected during plateletpheresis.
Plasma also helps the blood to clot but is an automated type of procedure which only collects the liquid part of the blood. Plasma transfusion is typically used to treat people with liver conditions, burns and bacterial infections.
How Fast Will I Recover After a Blood Transfusion?
In most cases, patients will start to feel better almost immediately. Regardless of how you feel, you should take the time to rest for 24-48 hours. Do not overexert yourself. Patients that have had a standard blood transfusion should be able to resume normal activities and continue your usual diet.
However, getting back to your regular routine can depend on the reason for your blood transfusion together with your circumstances. While the majority of patients will not experience any side-effects, people that have reported complications generally feel that something is quite right.
Doctors frequently attribute it to one of the following situations:
- The amount of blood you had before the transfusion
- Your age and overall health
- The reasons you needed a blood transfusion
- Whether you are taking other medications
There can also be external factors. How you feel may be related to the quality of the blood you received. However, this is rare today as the screening and matching process is comprehensive.
Some patients may not feel any better than before the transfusion due to an underlying illness. Again, the purpose of a blood transfusion is to combat the feeling of sickness, so this is rare also.
Patients that have undergone blood transfusions involving platelets or plasma may not feel any different afterward because the blood was given to prevent a problem.
When Can Complications Arise from a Blood Transfusion?
If you have had a blood transfusion, pay attention to adverse reactions once you get home. Complications can arise.
Look out for any of the following symptoms:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath (which is unnatural for you)
- Itchiness, rash or hives
- Lower back pain
- Tingling or numbness in hands and legs
If you do experience any of the conditions listed above, contact your doctor immediately.
Your immune system is sensitive to alien products and may be reacting to somebody else’s blood. Should this be the case, it can take up to 48 hours for your body to adapt. In most cases, you will feel better in as little as 12 hours. If unusual feelings continue for longer than two days, there could be another issue.
1] Chronic Fatigue After Blood Transfusion
Feelings of drowsiness in the immediate aftermath of a blood transfusion is relatively common. Chronic fatigue, on the other hand, is not and could be due to the quality of the blood you received. Chronic fatigue is a symptom of anemia which is a condition caused by iron-deficiency. If you have received blood with an iron deficiency, this may be the cause of your extreme tiredness.
In the best interest of patients, blood donors are thoroughly tested before they are permitted to give blood. Furthermore, blood is also tested in the lab before transfusion takes place. The likelihood of patients contracting chronic fatigue is, therefore, slim. But it can happen.
In testing, the symptoms proved to be an acute onset of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Clinical tests on patients with CFS following a blood transfusion pointed towards a transmitted cause in some cases.
Receiving low-quality blood is not always the cause of chronic fatigue. According to the Washington Post, the American Red Cross barred people with CFS from giving blood back in 2010. You have picked up a virus or other micro-organism which triggered the acute onset of fatigue. This is not unusual in people that have a weakened immune system.
2] Headache Day After Blood Transfusion
The surge of blood pressure can cause headaches. It is quite normal for some people to feel a headache the day after. However, if you experience a severe headache, or have a migraine that lasts several days, the problem could be due to reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS).
A symptom of RCVS is a “recurrent thunderclap headache.” This is known to be a compilation of blood transfusions in patients that have chronic severe anemia, and the hemoglobin level increased from more the 5 grams per deciliter (g/dl).
Headaches can also be due to a lack of iron or too much iron in the blood you received. Iron deficiency anemia has been found to be a cause of headaches when the brain does not obtain sufficient quantities of oxygen.
The same is true for people that have been found to have too much iron in their blood. Iron overload can also trigger migraines. If this is the case, the headaches should recede within a day or two once your body becomes accustomed to your new blood.
3] Leg Cramp After Blood Transfusion
Leg cramp after a blood transfusion is regarded as an odd symptom, but it has happened. In general, leg cramp should not be anything to worry about unless there is an underlying problem such a peripheral neuropathy.
Neuropathy is a numbing of the nerves. It is common in people that suffer from diabetes but can also be due to the compression of your spinal cord or alcohol intake. You shouldn’t drink alcohol for at least 12 hrs. after a blood transfusion as it could cause you to pass out.
If you experience leg cramps within the first 24-hours, it is probably just your immune system acclimatizing to the new blood cells. The condition should improve quickly. In cases where cramp in your leg is persistent, there could be an issue with the circulation of your blood. This can be due to atherosclerosis which is a build-up of plaque that causes the arteries of your legs to narrow. A Doppler ultrasound will be able to identify whether this is the menace.
A second explanation could be a vitamin D, magnesium or calcium deficiency. An intake of vitamin supplements, fruit, and vegetables in your diet will quickly remedy the problem.
4] Will I Experience Hallucinations After a Blood Transfusion?
Reports of patients experiencing hallucinations following a blood transfusion are rare considering over 5 million people undergo a blood transfusion in the United States every year. Evens still, thousands of hallucinations have been reported.
Medical professionals are undecided what causes hallucinations in patients, but there are several potential reasons. A delusion of parasitosis (DOP) is a difficult condition to manage as it is difficult to ascertain a specific cause. Experts can only make an assumption based on individual circumstances. There have been many reports by people aged over 65 experiencing hallucinations following surgical procedures and blood transfusions.
A combination of medication can cause hallucinations. DOP has been linked with opiate narcotics and therapies used for treating certain conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson disease.
Other medical conditions are known to cause DOP to include neurological conditions such as dementia, Huntington disease, multiple sclerosis, and strokes. Patients on antidepressant and antihypertensives might also experience hallucinations after a blood transfusion. Likewise, traces of recreational drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, and prescription medicines have been found in patients reporting DOP.
Nutritional deficiencies and weak immune systems have also been attributed to the cause of hallucinations. B12 deficiency, folate deficiency and pellagra caused by niacin deficiency are common culprits.
5] Will I Have a Late Period After a Blood Transfusion?
Late periods can be a distressing time for women. When a pregnancy test turns out negative, the cause of a late period can be due to many causes. One common problem is anemia.
It is estimated that one in five menstruating women are anemic and experience irregular menstrual cycles. Anemia is caused by a lack of red blood cells which means periods may occur less often or stop altogether.
Anemia is treated with dietary changes or supplements that tackle iron deficiencies, or a blood transfusion. Women that have heavy menstrual bleeding may also require a blood transfusion, especially new mothers that lose a lot of blood during childbirth.
How Long After Blood Transfusion to Feel Better?
In many cases, patients will feel better immediately, or very shortly after, undergoing a blood transfusion. The majority of patients will feel better within 24-48 hours. Furthermore, the benefits can be physically noticeable for up to two weeks after the procedure.
As mentioned above, how you feel after a blood transfusion will depend on your circumstances. The same rule applies to the length of time it takes to feel better, or at least, feel back to normal.
The effectiveness of a transfusion can depend on the age, health and energy levels of an individual. Likewise, the reason for needing a blood transfusion in the first place. For example, cancer patients suffering from chronic fatigue should expect to experience immediate results. Anemia patients that have increased their counts of hemoglobin should also feel better almost immediately.
Patients that receive blood to compensate for blood loss may take a couple of days to feel the effects. This will depend on how much blood you lost, together with other damage that was caused as a result of your injuries.
Although side effects are rare, like many medical procedures, blood transfusions do have risks. Even when blood is a perfect match, your body can reject it. In such circumstances, you will either break out into an allergic reaction such as a rash or hives. Usually, this is just a response from your body’s immune system.
How Often Can You Have a Blood Transfusion?
Blood transfusion is a life-saving procedure or needed to help treat patients suffering from a long-term illness. There is no evidence to suggest patients should be limited to blood transfusions. You can undergo as many transfusions as you need. Hospitals do follow protocols though, and patients may have to undergo testing before doctors decide as to whether a blood transfusion is necessary.
Transfusion parameters are guidelines that help to avoid complications and improve outcomes. Before deciding whether a blood transfusion is the best option for a patient, you have to meet the terms of the protocols.
As far as doctors are concerned, a patient can undergo as many blood transfusions as they need. However, transfusion parameters indicate that hemoglobin levels must drop below 7 or 8 g/dl. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red cells that transfer oxygen from the body. Low hemoglobin levels indicate a patient has an insufficient number of red blood cells which could result in an area of the body malfunctioning.
There are some chronic diseases in which patients require blood transfusions on a regular basis. Such diseases include acute kidney failure, and various forms of cancer, together with cancer treatments. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer patients that might require ongoing blood transfusions fall into many categories.
These include the following:
- Cancers that cause internal bleeding which can lead to anemia
- Diseases that start or spread to the bone marrow
- Long-term medical conditions that develop anemia
- Patients that have cancer which attacks vital organs needed to retain cells in the blood
- In cases where surgery has resulted in excessive blood loss
- Many chemotherapy drugs affect cells in the bone marrow which leads to low blood cell counts
- Radiation used to treat bone marrow transplants destroys blood-making cells and leads to low levels of hemoglobin
Can I Drive a Car After a Blood Transfusion?
In general, patients that have undergone a blood transfusion are okay to drive yourself home once you have been given the all-clear by doctors. Patients receiving a blood transfusion are given rigorous health checks during the procedure. A nurse will check your temperature and blood pressure every fifteen minutes while you are receiving blood and afterward, you are kept behind for routine observations.
Unless there are any drastic changes to your temperature or blood pressure, you will be allowed to go home. Driving is safe in most cases, but if you do not feel confident about driving after undergoing a blood transfusion, make alternative arrangements to get home.
What Are the Risks Associated with Blood Transfusions?
When compared with many other medical surgeries, the risks associated with blood transfusions are very low. Procedures are very tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), and The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).
The regulations encompass the entire process of screening donors, obtaining and storing blood, preparing and testing donations, and matching the correct blood type to recipients. Blood donors are required to undergo an intensive screening process before they are permitted to give blood. In recent years, patients suffering from specific syndromes have been barred from donating blood.
Once the blood is drawn, it is sent to a lab for further testing; blood type, RH factors, and antibodies. Further screening tests are given to check for evidence of infection or viruses. The likelihood of contracting infections from a blood transfusion is very low (varies with the infectious agent from 1 in 350,000 to 1 in 1 million) but can occur.
If you are due to undergo a scheduled blood transfusion and have concerns about the procedure and how you may feel afterward, you could ask your healthcare professional about the possibility of donating your blood before you have the procedure. Pre-operative blood donations are also available to people that are scheduled for surgery in which there is potential to lose blood.
During a blood transfusion, you will be well looked after by the nursing staff. Before the procedure, make sure you verify your name and date of birth matches with the blood that is going to be transfused. If you feel something is wrong during the procedure, inform the nurses immediately. Although it is uncommon for patients to experience problems during a blood transfusion, some people do experience shortness of breath, itching, chills or fever.
Blood transfusions are life-saving operations and in some cases are unavoidable. The good news is that complications are extremely rare and it should not take long before you start feeling better.