clock ico-close download envelope firstaid-lg firstaid-kit-sm folder home marker marker-map molecule money phone play plus search share ico-social-facebook ico-social-instagram ico-social-twitter ico-social-youtube stethoscope
Health Library Explorer
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A-Z Listings Contact Us
Click a letter to see a list of medical procedures beginning with that letter.
Click 'Back to Intro' to return to the beginning of this section.

Blood Transfusions for Children

What is a blood transfusion for children?

During a blood transfusion, your child receives donated blood through one of their blood vessels. A needle is put into a vein, usually in the arm. The needle is attached to a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. This is called an IV (intravenous) line. Blood is sent into the vein through this IV line.

Blood has several parts.

  • Plasma. This is the liquid part of the blood. It’s made of water, proteins, clotting factors, hormones, and other substances.

  • Red blood cells. Floating in the plasma are many red blood cells (RBCs). These large cells contain hemoglobin. Hemoglobin lets RBCs carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. The whole body needs oxygen, so it’s important to have enough RBCs.

  • White blood cells. Blood also contains white blood cells. These help the body fight infection.

  • Platelets. Smaller cells called platelets help the blood clot. Proteins called clotting factors also help blood clot.

Whole blood refers to blood with all these parts. Most of the time, a blood transfusion is done with only part of the blood. Your child might be given 1 or more of these blood parts based on their needs.

When a person has a blood transfusion, it’s important to be given the right blood. Blood comes in 4 main types: A, B, AB, and O. These types refer to molecules called antigens on the surfaces of blood cells. Antigens are substances that can cause a person’s immune system to react.

Rh factor is another type of antigen. Blood is either Rh positive or Rh negative. Each person’s blood is 1 of 8 specific types: A+, A−, B+, B−, AB+, AB−, O+, and O−.

If a person gets the wrong type of blood, their immune system will react to it. This is a serious condition that can cause severe symptoms, such as fever, muscles aches, and trouble breathing. It can sometimes be fatal.

People with O− blood don't have A, B, or Rh molecules on their blood cells. These people can donate blood to anyone .They are known as universal donors.

People who are AB+ have all 3 molecules (A, B, and Rh) on their blood cells and can safely receive blood from anyone.

Other blood types can donate and give to only their matching blood types.

Why might my child need a blood transfusion?

Your child might need a blood transfusion if they have a problem, such as:

  • A serious injury that’s caused major blood loss

  • Surgery that’s caused a lot of blood loss

  • A liver problem that makes the body unable to create certain blood parts

  • A bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia

  • An illness that causes reduced or poor-quality RBCs (anemia)

  • Kidney failure, which causes problems with blood cell production

  • Treatment for cancer (chemotherapy) that slows down the body’s production of blood cells

Different health problems may need different types of blood transfusions. For example, after surgery your child may need just RBCs. Your child’s healthcare provider can tell you why your child needs a blood transfusion, and which type is best for them.

What are the risks of blood transfusions for a child?

All procedures have some risks. The risks of blood transfusions include:

An allergic reaction. This can be mild or severe. Mild symptoms can include itching or rash. Severe symptoms can include trouble breathing, chest pain, or nausea. These symptoms may start soon after a blood transfusion or within the next 24 hours.

Fever. This can happen during a transfusion or within 1 day of the blood transfusion. It’s usually temporary.

Destruction of red blood cells by the body (hemolytic reaction). A hemolytic reaction happens when the body attacks the donated RBCs. This happens if a person gets a blood type that their blood isn’t compatible with. Donated blood goes through a very careful matching process, so this reaction is very rare. If it does happen, it can cause chills, fever, kidney damage, and other serious symptoms. Symptoms can happen during the blood transfusion or in the next several hours. A delayed hemolytic reaction can also happen. This can happen even if your child received the right blood type. This may take days or weeks to happen. It may not cause any symptoms, but it can cause your child’s RBC count to be lower.

Too much blood in the body (transfusion overload). Transfusion overload may happen if a person gets more blood than needed. It can cause shortness of breath and other symptoms. The symptoms usually happen within a few hours to a day. It’s more common in people with heart problems. Taking diuretic medicine after a blood transfusion may prevent this problem.

Too much iron in the body (iron overload). This can happen in people who need to have many blood transfusions over time for an ongoing medical condition.

Viruses being transmitted. Blood goes through a very careful screening before blood transfusions. The risk of a virus being passed on is extremely low. But it's a known risk factor.

Graft versus host disease. This is a condition where the new, donated blood cells attack cells in the body. It’s a serious but rare condition. It only happens in people with very weak immune systems. Symptoms, such as fever and rash, may start within a month of the blood transfusion.

Your child’s risks may vary according to their general health, the type of blood transfusion, and whether your child has had a blood transfusion before. Talk to the healthcare provider about which risks may apply to your child.

How do I get my child ready for a blood transfusion?

, In an age-appropriate manner, explain what the blood transfusion is and why it's being done. Your child’s healthcare provider will let you know if and how your child needs to prepare.

Make sure to tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had a bad reaction to a blood transfusion. Your child may be given a medicine to help prevent an allergic reaction.

Most hospitals need a consent form before a blood transfusion. This needs to be signed by a legal guardian.

Your child’s blood will be tested before the blood transfusion to find out what type it is. This is to make sure that your child gets the right kind of donor blood. Your child’s finger may be pricked to get a few drops of blood. Or your child may have blood taken from a vein in their arm.

What happens during a blood transfusion for a child?

During the procedure, your child will be given blood from a 1 or more people who donated it. In some cases, your child may be given blood that was taken from them before. Or your child may be given blood by a family member or friend.

A healthcare provider will clean the area where the IV will go. They will insert an IV into 1 of your child’s veins, most likely in the arm. The whole blood or blood parts will be sent through this line. The whole process may take 1 to 4 hours.

A healthcare provider will watch your child for any signs of negative reactions. These are most likely in the first 15 minutes. Tell your child to let the healthcare provider know right away if they start having symptoms.

Your child should be able to eat, drink, and go to the bathroom with help during the procedure. The healthcare provider will let you know about what else to expect.

What happens after a blood transfusion for a child?

After the blood transfusion, your child’s vital signs will be checked. These include their temperature and blood pressure.

Your child may be able to go home soon after the blood transfusion. They should be able to go back to their normal activities and eat a normal diet. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you additional instructions.

The area on the arm where your child had the IV may be sore for a few hours. Tell your child’s healthcare provider right away if your child has fever, trouble breathing, or swelling at the IV site.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or procedure for your child make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure

  • The reason your child is having the test or procedure

  • What results to expect and what they mean

  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure

  • When and where your child is to have the test or procedure

  • Who will do the procedure and what that person’s qualifications are

  • What would happen if your child did not have the test or procedure

  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about

  • When and how you will get the results

  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or your child has problems

  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

Online Medical Reviewer: Adam Levy MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2022
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Contact Our Health Professionals
Follow Us
StayWell Disclaimer