How safe are blood transfusions? Some experts warn of potentially deadly side effects
01/02/2018 // Zoey Sky // Views

Blood transfusions have revolutionized medicine, but the National Health Service (NHS) in the U.K., which performs at least two million transfusions annually, is worried about the "love of blood" healthcare professionals seem to have.

Love of blood refers to the dangers that accompany unnecessary transfusions, which occurs in at least one in five cases.

According to a Dutch study, men who underwent blood transfusions after surgery were 50 percent more likely to die at least hours after an operation if they were given blood from a woman who has given birth before. This discovery has raised concern over the quality of blood received from anonymous donors.

Transfusion-related lung injury was the number one cause of death, wherein "an abnormal immune response makes the recipients’ lungs severely inflame within six hours of blood being given." When the patient's lungs are oxygen-starved, this can cause cardiac arrest.

But there are those who are alarmed by the results because aside from blood type, no other details are included during transfusions.

One reason for this anomaly could be antibodies, or "infection-fighting cells" that women acquire during pregnancy. Antibodies work to "protect their baby in the womb," but they can cause a deadly immune system reaction in some men.

Other worries include the quality of stored blood. Based on various studies, there is an "increased risk of infections, including pneumonia," when a patient who receives blood from a stranger, especially when it is kept in bags for longer than a month at four degrees Celsius.


It is possible that this deadly side effect happens whenever red blood cells "age" and become less resilient compared to fresh blood. "Old" blood could break down faster once introduced into the patient's body. This leads to the release of copious amounts of iron, which could make bacteria stronger.

Storing blood can also trigger deadly biochemical changes. Since red blood cells release toxic enzymes that are often flushed out of the body via waste products, they can be accumulated in stored blood instead.

Stored red blood cells can also lose their smooth, disc-like shape. If they become more pointed and spiky, they can have a hard time moving through the bloodstream. This can deprive vital organs of the oxygen they need.

Anemia often requires blood transfusions, and the condition involves a drop in hemoglobin or the oxygen-carrying substance in red blood cells. Keeping anemia in check is important since patients with low hemoglobin levels are 42 percent more likely to die within 30 days after an operation versus individuals with normal levels. (Related: Anemia sufferers - Improve your absorption of iron.)

A healthy male patient will have hemoglobin levels of 13.5 to 17.5 grams (g) per 100 milliliters (ml) of blood and a woman 11.5 to 15.5g. When these levels drop lower than 5g (e.g. because of blood loss during surgery), a patient becomes more at risk.

According to studies, most surgeons transfuse blood even when hemoglobin readings are still at 10g or higher. Other medical experts believe this is doing more harm than good.

How can this concern be addressed?

To address this health concern, experts are exerting various means of curbing the excessive use of donated blood. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has urged medical experts "for better treatment of anemia" before patients require surgery, which can minimize the need for transfusions.

NICE is also advising doctors to give more anemic surgery patients tranexamic acid, a "relatively cheap and effective drug" which reduces blood loss by at least a third. The organization believes that the drug is only being used in as few as 10 percent of surgery cases where anemia is present.

Natural remedies for anemia

If you are anemic, try some of the natural cures listed below:

  • Up your vitamin C intake
  • Eat yogurt with turmeric
  • Eat more leafy greens
  • Drink fresh beetroot or pomegranate juice
  • Eat sesame seeds
  • Eat raisins and dates

You can read more articles about herbs and other natural cures for anemia at

Sources include:

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