People are sometimes given transfusions Overview of Blood Transfusion A blood transfusion is the transfer of blood or a blood component from one healthy person (a donor) to a sick person (a recipient). Transfusions are given to increase the blood's ability to... read more of whole blood during severe bleeding (for example after an injury or pregnancy complications), but usually they are given only the blood component they need. The different components of blood include
Plasma contains antibodies Antibodies One of the body's lines of defense ( immune system) involves white blood cells (leukocytes) that travel through the bloodstream and into tissues, searching for and attacking microorganisms and... read more (immunoglobulins) and clotting factors, which are sometimes separated from plasma.
Not all components are produced from a particular unit of donated blood. For example, immunoglobulins and clotting factors may be prepared from plasma pooled together from many donors. White blood cells and platelets are obtained by apheresis Apheresis In apheresis, blood is removed from a person and then returned after substances are removed from it. Apheresis can be used to Obtain healthy blood components from a donor to transfuse to a person... read more . Depending on the situation, people may receive only the red blood cells, platelets, plasma, or cryoprecipitate Cryoprecipitate People are sometimes given transfusions of whole blood during severe bleeding (for example after an injury or pregnancy complications), but usually they are given only the blood component they... read more . Transfusing only selected blood components allows the treatment to be specific, reduces the risks of side effects, and can efficiently use the different components from a single unit of blood to treat several people.
Some blood products can be treated with a chemical that reduces the risk of transmission of infection-causing microorganisms. In this procedure, called pathogen reduction technology, certain blood products are treated with a chemical that reduces the risk of transmission of almost all microorganisms.
Red blood cells
Packed red blood cells, the most commonly transfused blood component, can restore the blood's oxygen-carrying capacity. This component may be given to a person who is bleeding or who has severe anemia Overview of Anemia Anemia is a condition in which the number of red blood cells is low. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that enables them to carry oxygen from the lungs and deliver it to all parts... read more . The red blood cells are separated from the fluid component of the blood (plasma) and from the other cellular components. This step concentrates the red blood cells so that they occupy less space, thus the term “packed.”
Sometimes red blood cells are specially prepared (washed) so they can be given to people who have had severe reactions to plasma. Washed red blood cells are free of almost all traces of plasma, most white blood cells, and platelets.
Special filters are routinely used to remove white blood cells to reduce many types of side effects, including fever, chills, cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Infection Cytomegalovirus infection is a common herpesvirus infection with a wide range of symptoms: from no symptoms to fever and fatigue (resembling infectious mononucleosis) to severe symptoms involving... read more , and antibody formation against human leukocyte antigens (HLA). HLA antigens are chemical markers located on the surface of cells and are unique in each organism, enabling the body to distinguish self from nonself.
Red blood cells can be refrigerated for up to 42 days. In special circumstances—for instance, to preserve a rare type of blood—red blood cells can be frozen for up to 10 years.
Platelets are small cell-like particles in the blood that help clots form. Platelets are usually given to people with too few platelets (thrombocytopenia Overview of Thrombocytopenia Thrombocytopenia is a low number of platelets (thrombocytes) in the blood, which increases the risk of bleeding. Thrombocytopenia occurs when the bone marrow makes too few platelets or when... read more ), which may result in severe and spontaneous bleeding. Platelets can be stored for only 5 days because they are kept at room temperature.
In the past, several donors were needed to provide enough platelets to benefit one person. Current apheresis collection techniques that better separate platelets from other blood components allow a single donor to provide enough platelets for one person's needs.
Plasma, the fluid component of the blood, contains many proteins, including blood clotting factors Blood clotting factors Hemostasis is the body's way of stopping injured blood vessels from bleeding. Hemostasis includes clotting of the blood. Too little clotting can cause excessive bleeding from minor injury Too... read more . Blood clotting factors are proteins that work with platelets to help the blood clot. Without clotting factors, bleeding would not stop after an injury.
Plasma is usually frozen immediately after it is separated from fresh blood (fresh frozen plasma). Plasma frozen within 24 hours of collection can be stored for up to 1 year. It is used for bleeding disorders in which the missing clotting factor is unknown or when the specific clotting factor is not available. Plasma also is used when bleeding is caused by insufficient production of all or many of the different clotting factors as a result of disorders such as liver failure.
Did You Know...
When fresh frozen plasma is first thawed, certain clotting factors (mainly fibrinogen, factor VIII, factor XIII, and von Willebrand factor) form solid clumps at the bottom of the liquid plasma. Clumps that form this way are called a "precipitate." "Cryo" means cold, hence the name cryoprecipitate. Cryoprecipitate is most often given to people who have severe bleeding due to too little fibrinogen, an important clotting factor (for example, in people with disseminated intravascular coagulation Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC) Disseminated intravascular coagulation is a condition in which small blood clots develop throughout the bloodstream, blocking small blood vessels. The increased clotting depletes the platelets... read more or placental abruption Placental Abruption Placental abruption is the premature detachment of the placenta from the wall of the uterus, usually after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Women may have abdominal pain and tenderness and vaginal bleeding... read more ).
Individual clotting proteins also can be purified from pooled plasma or manufactured using genetic recombinant techniques. Individual concentrated blood clotting factors can be given to people who have an inherited bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia Hemophilia Hemophilia is a hereditary bleeding disorder caused by a deficiency in one of two blood clotting factors: factor VIII or factor IX. Several different gene abnormalities can cause the disorder... read more or von Willebrand disease Von Willebrand Disease Von Willebrand disease is a hereditary deficiency or abnormality of the blood protein von Willebrand factor, which affects platelet function, causing excessive bleeding. (See also Overview of... read more , and to reverse the effects of drugs that inhibit blood clotting (anticoagulants such as warfarin).
Antibodies (immunoglobulins), the disease-fighting components of blood, are sometimes given to provide temporary immunity to people who have been exposed to an infectious disease or who have low antibody levels. Antibodies are produced from treated plasma donations from multiple donors.
Infections for which antibodies are available include chickenpox, hepatitis, rabies, and tetanus.
White blood cells
White blood cells are transfused to treat life-threatening infections in people who have a greatly reduced number of white blood cells or whose white blood cells are functioning abnormally. The use of white blood cell transfusions is rare, because improved antibiotics and the use of cytokine growth factors that stimulate people to produce more of their own white blood cells have greatly reduced the need for such transfusions. White blood cells are obtained by apheresis Apheresis In apheresis, blood is removed from a person and then returned after substances are removed from it. Apheresis can be used to Obtain healthy blood components from a donor to transfuse to a person... read more and can be stored for up to 24 hours.
Researchers have attempted to create blood substitutes that use certain chemicals or specially treated solutions of hemoglobin (the protein that allows red blood cells to carry oxygen) to carry and deliver oxygen to tissues. These solutions can be stored at room temperature (often for several years―much longer than blood can be kept in a blood bank) and do not need to be typed and cross-matched to the person receiving them. These characteristics make them attractive for transport to the site of trauma or to the battlefield. However, studies have not shown that any of the blood substitutes developed so far save lives. Doctors are doing further research on other possible blood substitutes.