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    Transfusion reaction - hemolytic

    Blood transfusion reaction

    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 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.


    • Back pain
    • Bloody urine
    • Chills
    • Fainting or dizziness
    • Fever
    • Flank pain
    • Flushing of the skin

    Symptoms of a hemolytic transfusion reaction usually appear during or right after the transfusion. Sometimes, they may develop after several days (delayed reaction).

    Exams and Tests

    This disease may change the results of these tests:

    • CBC
    • Coombs' test, direct
    • Coombs' test, indirect
    • Fibrin degradation products
    • Haptoglobin
    • Partial thromboplastin time
    • Prothrombin time
    • Serum bilirubin
    • Serum creatinine
    • Serum hemoglobin
    • Urinalysis
    • Urine hemoglobin


    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.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    The outcome depends on the severity of the reaction. The disorder may disappear without problems. Or, it may be severe and life threatening.

    Possible Complications

    • Acute kidney failure
    • Anemia
    • Lung problems
    • Shock

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    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.


    Goodnough L. Transfusion medicine. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 183.

    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.


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          Tests for Transfusion reaction - hemolytic

          Review Date: 2/28/2011

          Reviewed By: 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.

          The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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