Allogeneic red blood cell (RBC) transfusions have been shown to be associated with considerable risks. While their efficiency in many clinical situations has not been proven, the number of studies finding adverse outcomes in terms of morbidity (e.g. postoperative infections) and mortality continues to rise. In view of these facts, physicians involved in transfusion medicine have to be as restrictive as possible with RBC transfusions. Only a thorough knowledge of the physiology and pathophysiology of oxygen transport can be a solid base for meaningful transfusion decisions. Therefore, the goal of this article is to review the basics of oxygen transport and normovolaemic anaemia.