Before a transfusion

Treatment with blood transfusion is carefully considered in discussion with your doctor. Find out more about your condition and treatment options to make an informed decision about your transfusion.

What should I ask my doctor?

Choosing Wisely Australia® recommends five questions to ask your doctor before you get any test, treatment or procedure. These questions can be used if you are responsible for the decision and consent process for yourself or a family member.

Ask your doctor:

It can be very helpful to know a bit about transfusion and other care before you ask your doctor these questions. Below are some links to other areas on the website to assist with this.


Do I really need this test or procedure?

The decision to have a transfusion is made by balancing the need/ benefit against the risks. Sometimes the benefit is not always obvious, such as the use of platelets to help prevent bleeding when your count becomes very low. Reasons for a transfusion covers the most common reasons for needing one and types of transfusion outlines some specific examples for each blood component. Avoid a transfusion provides information about possible options you can discuss with your doctor which might help to minimise your need for a transfusion.

What are the risks?

Blood in Australia is collected by Australian Red Cross Lifeblood from voluntary, unpaid donors. All donors are interviewed and assessed for suitability to donate blood. Every blood donation is tested for the presence of certain infections such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. These tests must be negative before blood is released for transfusion.

The most avoidable risk of transfusion is being given the wrong blood (meant for someone else). To ensure you receive the right blood, the clinical staff make careful identification checks before any transfusion.

Australia has one of the safest blood supplies in the world in terms of viral safety but like any medical procedure, there are risks associated with transfusion. The following chart compares the risk of transfusion with everyday risks.

Most people do not feel any different during a transfusion. Reactions from receiving a transfusion are uncommon, and usually mild. However, some rare, but serious reactions can occur. Reactions can occur during, or in the weeks after a transfusion. Signs of a transfusion reaction may include:

  • rash
  • hives
  • nausea
  • chest pain
  • high temperature
  • dark or decreased amount of urine
  • shaking
  • itching
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • pain at the needle site


Are there simpler, safer options?

There may be alternative treatment for some but not all blood products. Information on alternative options for products can be found at types of transfusion.


What happens if I don't do anything?

Being fully informed requires an understanding of what may happen to you if you do not have the suggested medical treatment. Choosing not to have a blood transfusion may have serious consequesnces in some situations. Learn more in types of transfusion.

Can I refuse a blood transfusion?

A competent adult who has been fully informed of the risks and benefits is entitled to make the decision to accept or refuse medical treatment such as blood transfusion. This may be for personal or religious reasons.

You may be happy to have some blood products but not others and it is important that you have communicated this with your medical team.

Your medical team needs to ensure you have all the information available and all your questions answered to make this decision.


What are the costs?

You will not be charged if you receive a transfusion in a public or private hospital because in Australia blood products are funded by the state and federal governments.

However, if you look closely at the label on a blood product you may notice it shows the manufacturing cost. This is to increase health provider awareness and appreciation of the costs associated with the provision of blood and blood products within Australia. It also supports awareness that blood is a precious resource given generously by donors. It should be used and managed with care.

Whilst blood donation is voluntary, the collection, processing, testing and distribution of blood and blood products incur significant costs.


What is consent?

Before a transfusion is carried out, you (or a family member) will be asked to give your permission or consent. This is required for all medical procedures.

To be involved in decisions about your transfusion, you must have enough information about your condition and the options you have.

Points to remember when giving your consent:

  • Your consent must be voluntary.
  • You must have the capacity to be able to make the decision.
  • Information on treatment including benefits and risks must be provided to you.
  • You must be able to comprehend the information.

Be sure to ask questions anytime if there is any part of your treatment that you do not understand.


What if my child needs a transfusion?

Having a child in hospital is a difficult time for everyone in the family. To try to help in a small way, these information booklets aim to explain to both you and your child what to expect if a transfusion is needed.

Children receiving a blood transfusion: A parents' guide, is for you and tells you what is involved in receiving a blood transfusion. As a parent you will be asked to consent for your child's transfusion - you can find more information in the sections Questions to ask your doctor and What is consent?

Amazing You: Let's Learn About Blood has been sepcifically designed with younger children in mind. In this booklet Billy Blood Drop explains, in simple story format, all about the importance of blood in the body and what your child can expect when receiving a blood transfusion.  

Voyagers on the Microsub Discovery has been designed for older children. This booklet contains more facts and information and is designed for children to read and learn by themselves if they wish.


Please select from the following resources if you would like more information about this topic: