Blood transfusion & Anaesthesia

Some forms of surgery are accompanied by expected blood loss. Examples include hip replacement, vascular surgery, some abdominal procedures and cardiac surgery.

Where blood loss is anticipated, your anaesthetist will ensure that a sufficient volume of the required blood products is available for your operation. This blood can be obtained as donated blood from the Red Cross ('donor blood') or if you have satisfied the health, age and other criteria you may have been organized to donate one or more deposits of your own blood (""autologous"" blood) in the weeks before your operation at a laboratory set up to collect and screen it. This must be organised some weeks prior your surgery and you would need to be referred by your surgeon. If you think you may need a blood transfusion, you should discuss the suitability of this type of donation with your surgeon.

Donor blood is a precious commodity and is often is short supply, so your anaesthetist will endeavour to use other types of intravenous fluid (saline and colloid solutions) where possible to replace lost blood. Your anaesthetist will only give donor blood or blood products where blood loss is large, rapid or uncontrolled. Although Australia has one of the worlds safest blood supplies due to our rigorous screening program, donated blood transfusion has in the past been associated with the transmission of some blood borne diseases. There are also other possible rare complications of blood transfusion that your anaesthetist may discuss if you are expected to require a blood transfusion.

'Donor' blood is screened by the Red Cross and also by the local Blood Bank to be free of known disease and to be compatible with your own blood group. These days, donor blood is considered safe.

'Autologous' blood that has been donated by the patient pre-operatively is also screened by the local blood bank just before transfusion to ensure that no errors in labelling or mix-ups have occurred. As autologous blood can only be used for the person donating it, it is usually given to the patient during or at the end of the procedure. Otherwise, it must be discarded.

Your anaesthetist, usually together with the anaesthetic nurse, triple-checks the labelling on the blood unit immediately prior to its administration. This is to ensure that it is totally compatible with the patient about to receive it. These stringent checks ensure that patient-safety is maintained above all and that blood transfusion (where required) is fee of complications.

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