By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Blood transfusion is associated with risks that can be avoided by using substitutes to blood transfusion. Furthermore, supplies of donor blood are limited and substitutes or alternatives to blood transfusion may help curb the shortages.
Some of the alternatives to blood transfusion that are available include:
Blood loss involves the loss of blood volume. The human body normally contains around 5 litres of blood. When a lot of body fluids are lost, shock may set in. This blood loss and shock can be prevented by administering solutions that expand the plasma volume, restoring it to a normal level and keeping the circulation going. The most common fluids used to achieve this in the hospital setting include normal saline (sterile water with a precise amount of salt) and lactated Ringer’s solution (saline plus other chemicals). These are administered directly into the blood stream via intravenous catheters.
Hematopoietic growth factors stimulate the bone marrow to make more blood cells. In patients with low blood counts, these agents can help increase the red blood cell, white blood cell, or platelet counts. However, one disadvantage of growth factor therapy over blood transfusion is that growth factors often take many days or weeks to raise the blood counts and are not useful for patients who need their blood cell urgently restored. Other important drawbacks of growth factor therapy include lack of treatment response in cases of severe bone marrow disease and an increased risk for certain types of cancer including lymphocytic leukemia, multiple myeloma, breast cancer and cervical cancer. Growth factors are also more expensive than whole blood transfusion.
Autologous blood transfusion
An autologous blood transfusion involves some of the patient’s own blood being removed, filtered and then introduced back into the patient. This is the preferred option in planned surgeries. Using the patient’s own blood reduces the need for transfusions from other donors.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: May 6, 2014