A hemolytic transfusion reaction is a serious problem that occurs after a patient receives a transfusion of blood. The red blood cells that were given to the patient are destroyed by the patient's immune system.
There are other types of allergic transfusion reactions that do not cause hemolysis.
Blood transfusion reaction
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Blood is classified into different blood types called A, B, AB, and O.
Your immune system can usually tell its own blood cells from blood cells from another person. If other blood cells enter your body, your immune system may make antibodies against them. These antibodies will work to destroy the blood cells that your immune system does not recognize.
Another way blood cells may be classified is by Rh factors. People who have Rh factors in their blood are called "Rh positive." People without these factors are called "Rh negative." Rh negative people form antibodies against Rh factor if they receive Rh positive blood.
There are also other factors to identify blood cells, in addition to ABO and Rh.
Blood that you receive in a transfusion must be compatible with your own blood. Being compatible means that your body will not form antibodies against the blood you receive.
Blood transfusion between compatible groups (such as O+ to O+) usually causes no problem. Blood transfusion between incompatible groups (such as A+ to O-) causes an immune response. This can lead to a very serious transfusion reaction. The immune system attacks the donated blood cells, causing them to burst.
Today, all blood is carefully screened. Modern lab methods and many checks have helped make these transfusion reactions very rare.
Therapy can prevent or treat the severe effects of a hemolytic transfusion reaction. If symptoms occur during the transfusion, the transfusion must be stopped immediately. Blood samples from the person getting the transfusion and from the donor may be tested to tell whether symptoms are being caused by a transfusion reaction.
Mild symptoms may be treated with the following:
The pain reliever, acetaminophen can reduce fever and discomfort.
Fluids given through a vein (intravenous) and other medications may be used to treat or prevent kidney failure and shock.
The outcome depends on the severity of the reaction. The disorder may disappear without problems. Or, it may be severe and life threatening.
Tell your health care provider if you are having a blood transfusion and you have had a reaction before.
Donated blood is put into ABO and Rh groups to reduce the risk of transfusion reaction.
Before a transfusion, patient and donor blood are tested (crossmatched) to see if they are compatible with each other. A small amount of donor blood is mixed with a small amount of patient blood. The mixture is checked under a microscope for signs of antibody reaction.
Before the transfusion is given, the health care provider will usually check again to make sure you are receiving the right unit of blood.
Wu YY, Mantha S, Snyder EL. Transfusion reactions. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ Jr., Shattil SJ, et al, eds. Hoffman Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2008:chap 153.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.