Blood-Transfusion Reaction


Basic Information


Symptoms triggered by a blood transfusion that may affect the blood, blood vessels, kidneys; heart, skin, central nervous system, lungs.

Frequent signs and symptoms

Less serious:

  • Chills and fever.
  • Backache or other aches and pains.
  • Hives and itching.

More serious:

  • Blood-cell destruction (hemolysis) causing shortness of breath, severe headache, chest or back pain and blood in the urine.


Transfusions of a different blood type than that of the patient. This may occur from errors in matching or from the use of incompletely matched blood in an emergency.

Risk increases with

  • Blood transfusions in emergency situations, when careful typing and matching of blood must be bypassed.
  • Blood transfusions from donors who carry infections.
  • Multiple blood transfusions.
  • Rh negative mother.

Preventive measures

  • Blood-bank and hospital personnel have safety procedures to prevent reactions except in situations that are uncontrollable (see Causes).
  • Use of diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) and acetaminophen prior to transfusion may prevent minor reactions.
  • Let the doctor or medical personnel know of any prior history of a response to transfusions.
  • If surgery is planned at least 1 month in advance, your own blood may be drawn and stored for use during surgery, if necessary. Transfusion with your own blood is least likely to produce a reaction.

Expected outcomes

Most reactions clear gradually after the transfusion is halted. A few reactions are fatal.

Possible complications

  • Acute kidney failure.
  • Anaphylaxis.
  • Congestive heart failure from too rapid transfusion.


General measures

  • Hospitalization is required. Patients receiving transfusions are usually in a hospital or outpatient surgical facility, and reactions can be treated when they occur.
  • Stay awake and alert during a blood transfusion, if possible, so you can notify medical personnel immediately if symptoms occur.
  • Transfusion will be stopped immediately at first sign of reaction.
  • All vital signs will be monitored and preventive measures implemented to minimize complications.
  • Supplemental oxygen if required.


  • Antihistamines to decrease hives and itching.
  • Cortisone drugs to decrease the likelihood of acute kidney failure.
  • Antihypertensives, if blood pressure rises too high, or hypertensives, if blood pressure drops too low.


Bed rest at first. Resume your normal activities as soon as symptoms improve after transfusion.


No special diet.

Notify your physician if

You or a family member has symptoms of a blood transfusion reaction during or after a transfusion. Call immediately. This is an emergency!

Last updated 8 August 2015


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