To Your Health
Dealing With the Blood-Supply Shortage

by Paulette Avery RN, MSN

"A significant drop in donations has left Bay Area blood centers dangerously short of supplies, and officials warn that they will have to start notifying hospitals to postpone surgeries if the situation doesn't improve." This quote from the July 24, 2005, San Francisco Examiner and similar reports have become increasingly common.

I was aware of the frequent requests for donations from local blood banks, but I was unaware until recently of new procedures being used to replace blood transfusions, and of the many problems associated with transfusing blood. An article titled "Bloodless Revolution" that recently appeared in the journal Advance for Nursing provided some intriguing information on this topic.

The article's author, Lorraine Micheletti, MA, RN, CCRN, reports that many studies have found that the risks of transfusions far outweigh the benefits and that newer procedures offer a reasonable alternative that may avoid the risks of transfusing blood in some cases. Among the risks to patients receiving a blood transfusion are transmission of infectious diseases, transfusion-related lung injury, an increase in postoperative infections, poorer wound healing, and a permanent alteration to the immune system.

Additionally, there are the problems related to collecting and storing donated blood. The cost of collecting, processing, and storing a single unit of blood runs from $600 to $1,000, and that holds true even when you donate blood for your own use. In fact, the cost of collecting blood for your own use actually often runs higher because 44 percent of such blood ends up being discarded.

Micheletti suggests that medical professionals stop and carefully assess the patient's overall status and then consider alternatives before automatically ordering a transfusion. The human body has many adaptive measures to compensate for blood loss, and in some cases these will be sufficient.

One alternative to transfusion being used for some surgical patients involves the removal of some of their blood just after anesthesia has been administered, replacing the blood with another type of fluid during the surgery, and then retransfusing the blood after the procedure is completed. This method has been found safe and cost-effective.

In other cases, drugs that encourage the growth of various blood components can be used. You've probably seen TV ads for one such drug advertised to help chemotherapy patients regain their strength.

Of course, in some cases, blood transfusion is still necessary, and the need for donors is ongoing. If you are interested in donating blood, contact the American Red Cross at (800) GIVE-LIFE (1-800-448-3543) or A general health screening is done before the actual donation, and criteria are considered before a donor is accepted. Check with the donor site to get more details.

Paulette Avery is a registered nurse and a freelance writer specializing in health issues.