Non-infectious complications of transfusion therapy

Blood Rev. 2001 Jun;15(2):69-83. doi: 10.1054/blre.2001.0151.


Blood transfusion is considered safe when the infused blood is tested using state of the art viral assays developed over the past several decades. Only rarely are known viruses like HIV and hepatitis C transmitted by transfusion when blood donors are screened using these sensitive laboratory tests. However, there are a variety of transfusion risks which still remain that cannot be entirely eliminated, many of which are non-infectious in nature. Predominantly immune-mediated complications include the rapid intravascular or slow extravascular destruction (hemolysis) of transfused red cells or extravascular removal of platelets by pre-formed antibodies carried by the transfusion recipient. Alternatively, red cells can be damaged when exposed to excessive heat or incompatible intravenous fluids before or during the transfusion. Common complications of blood transfusion that at least partly involve the immune system include febrile non-hemolytic and allergic reactions. While these are usually not life-threatening, they can hamper efforts to transfuse a patient. Other complications include circulatory overload, hypothermia and metabolic disturbances. Profound hypotensive episodes have been described in patients on angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors who receive platelet transfusions through bedside leukoreduction filters. These curious reactions appear to involve dysmetabolism of the vasoactive substance bradykinin. Products contaminated by bacteria during blood collection and transfused can cause life-threatening septic reactions. A long-term complication of blood transfusion therapy unique to chronically transfused patients is iron overload. Less common - but serious - reactions more specific to blood transfusion include transfusion-associated graft-versus-host disease and transfusion-associated acute lung injury. Many of these complications of transfusion therapy can be prevented by adhering to well-established practice guidelines. In addition, individuals who administer blood transfusions should recognize these complications in order to be able to quickly provide appropriate treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Hemolysis / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity
  • Isoantibodies / immunology
  • Risk Factors
  • Transfusion Reaction*


  • Isoantibodies