You may need a red cell transfusion if you have lost a large amount of blood before or during surgery. A transfusion of platelets, plasma or clotting factors may be needed if any of these components are low or not working properly.

If you know you need to have surgery you and your doctor can plan to improve your health and reduce the likelihood that you will need a transfusion.

One way of doing this is to have your haemoglobin and iron stores checked. Low haemoglobin or anaemia is often due to low iron stores. Low haemoglobin before surgery is known as preoperative anaemia. Preoperative anaemia can result in worse health outcomes for you and also increases your risk of needing a transfusion. Your doctor can order tests to check your levels. If you have low haemoglobin and iron, you can be treated with iron replacement. Your doctor will also need to do some investigations to find out why your iron levels are low.

There may also be other ways your healthcare team can reduce your chances of needing a blood transfusion such as:

  • Making sure you are kept warm during surgery.
  • The type of anaesthetic and fluids used.
  • Medications that assist with blood clotting to reduce blood loss.
  • Improved surgical techniques such as laparoscopy (keyhole surgery) to reduce blood loss.
  • Use of devices that reduce blood loss (eg staplers, blood vessel sealing equipment).
  • Use of blood pumping equipment during cardiac surgery that requires less volume to operate.
  • Use of cell salvage equipment that collects, cleans and returns your own blood.