Receiving blood

Blood transfusions

Each year nearly 21 million blood components are transfused in the United States. Blood may be needed for many different reasons. Patients receiving organ transplants, cancer therapies and bone marrow transplants may require a transfusion. Blood is also critical for the survival of premature babies and patients undergoing heart surgery, as well as those who have been in serious accidents.

The body needs to replenish blood that is lost, destroyed or not replaced by the bone marrow, which makes blood cells. Blood is essential for transporting oxygen, nutrients and other substances to tissue throughout the body. A full grown adult has 10 to12 pints of blood in his or her body. Blood is made up of several different components, and your medical condition will determine which blood components you may need for transfusion.

Types of transfusions

Packed red blood cells

Packed red blood cells contain hemoglobin that carry oxygen to and remove carbon dioxide from all of the body’s tissues.


Platelets are very small cellular components that help the clotting process by sticking to the walls of injured blood vessels, which helps to prevent and control bleeding.


Plasma is the yellowish liquid portion of the blood containing substances that help clotting, along with other important blood components. Plasma constitutes about 55 percent of blood volume.

White blood cells

White blood cells are part of the immune system. Their job is to fight infection. Granulocytes and macrophages protect against infections by surrounding and destroying invading bacteria and viruses, and lymphocytes aid in immune defense.

Blood types

It is vital that the person receiving a transfusion is blood type compatible with the donor’s blood. The approximate distribution of the U.S. population according to American Association of Blood Banks is as follows;

Rh+   Rh-  
O 39 percent O 9 percent
A 30 percent A 6 percent
B 9 percent B 2 percent
AB 4 percent AB 1 percent

In an emergency, anyone can receive type O Negative red blood cells and Type AB positive individuals can receive red blood cells of any ABO type. Therefore, people with type O Negative blood are known as “Universal Donors” and those with type AB Positive blood are known as “Universal Recipients.” In addition, AB plasma donors can give to all blood types.

Blood safety

The blood supply is safer today than it has ever been. Strict guidelines for careful screening of donors and highly regulated federal mandates for the testing and storage of blood makes it as safe as possible. However, blood transfusions, like all medical treatments, are not risk free.

The DeGowin Blood Center makes every effort to assure that the blood you receive at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics is of the highest quality. The blood center is staffed by physicians, medical technologists, nurses and technicians who have training and certification in transfusion medicine. It is registered with the Food and Drug Administration and accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks and the College of American Pathologists.

All the blood for transfusion comes from volunteer donors. At this time there is no substitute for human blood. The volunteer donors are required to answer detailed questions about their health history and diseases that can be passed through the blood. After the questionnaire is answered, they receive a limited physical examination to assure that it is safe for them to be a donor, do not have a fever, and that they have an adequate number of red cells to donate.

Some people choose to donate their own blood in case they need it themselves later on for surgery. This is called autologous donation.

Once the blood is donated, it is tested for infectious diseases. The blood is held in a quarantine status until all infectious disease testing is complete. Blood that does not pass infectious disease testing is discarded. If by chance they should become ill within seven days of their donation, the donor is instructed to call the Donor Center and a decision will be made by medical staff, based on the donor’s symptoms, whether to discard the unit of blood.

Infectious disease tests performed on all donated blood:

  • Hepatitis B surface Antigen
  • Hepatitis B Core Antibody
  • Hepatitis C Virus Antibody
  • HIV-1 and HIV-2 antibody
  • HTLV-1 and HTLV-ll antibody
  • Serologic test for syphilis
  • Nucleid Acid Amplification (NAT) testing for HIV-1, HIV-2, HBV, and HCV
  • NAT for West Nile Virus
  • NAT for Zika Virus

If you require a transfusion, a needle is placed into a vein in your arm and the blood flows from the bag of blood to your arm through a small tube. There is a filter attached to the tubing to remove any microaggregates that may have formed in the collection and storage process. The procedure takes about one to three hours and the patient is monitored for adverse reaction throughout.

The safety of the blood is of utmost importance and the DeGowin Blood Center uses an automated barcode scanning process that reduces the risk of transfusion errors.

Should you require a blood transfusion, talk with your physician about your options and possible risks. 

Learn more about DeGowin Blood Center

For more information:

Last reviewed: 
February 2016

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