About Blood

When You Need Blood

Blood transfusions are a critical part of everyday medicine. 4.5 million Americans receive blood each year.

Patients receiving organ transplants, cancer therapies and support for sickle cell anemia depend on lifesaving transfusions. Blood is also critical to the survival of premature babies and patients undergoing heart or joint replacement surgery.

Should you or a loved one require a blood transfusion, talk with your doctor about your options, possible risks and whether you might be able to donate your own blood for your operation.

Why would I need a blood transfusion? 

You may need blood for a variety of reasons. Your body needs to replenish blood that is lost, destroyed or not replaced by your bone marrow, which makes your blood cells. Loss may occur: 

  • During surgery;
  • In an accident;
  • As a result of cancer treatment or other illnesses that cause anemia. Anemia occurs when the body's red blood cell count is very low. Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs so that it can be used throughout the body.


Common Blood Needs by the Numbers

Small _icon _blood = Blood    Small _icon _platelets = Platelets   Small _icon _cryo = Cryoprecipitate   Small _icon _plasma = Plasma

Automobile Accident

50 pints of blood

Icon _need _automobile

Heart Surgery

6 pints of blood
6 pints of platelets

Icon _need _heart _transplant

Organ Transplant

40 pints of blood
30 pints of platelets
20 bags of cryoprecipitate
25 pints of plasma

Icon _need _organ 

Burn Victim

20 pints of platelets

Icon _need _burn


Where does the blood for my transfusion come from?

Volunteer Blood Donors

Non-paid volunteers give virtually all the blood needed in the United States for transfusions. Non-profit community blood centers use blood collected only from volunteer donors. The FDA requires that blood be labeled, stating whether a unit of blood has come from a volunteer or paid donor. Studies have shown that blood given by volunteers is much safer for transfusions than blood given by paid donors. Also, using blood donated by volunteers ensures that it was given only for altruistic reasons.

Other Options That May Be Available

  • Using Your Own Blood
  • Directed Donation
  • Apheresis Donation 


Using Your Own Blood

Using your own blood, called autologous donation, reduces the chance of having a reaction to a blood transfusion. It also prevents you from getting a disease that may have been transmitted through the blood of others.

With your doctor's approval, you can donate your own blood up to six weeks before your surgery. Your doctors also can collect your blood during surgery and return it to your body at the end of operation. This procedure is called blood dilution or intraoperative hemodilution.

Depending on the timing of your surgery, the type of surgery and your personal health, these procedures may not be practical.

When it is not possible to donate your own blood, you may receive blood donated by volunteers at the community blood center. Because of the increasing safety of the volunteer blood donor supply, the effectiveness of autologous donations is being debated by the medical community. As a result, some insurance plans are limiting its use.


Directed Donation 

A directed donation is blood that is donated for you by family members or friends who have the same blood type as you.

There is no evidence that directed donations are safer than blood donated by community volunteers. In fact, blood donations from close relatives are more likely to cause a reaction by your immune system. In these situations, doctors must treat directed blood donations with radiation before it can be used safely.