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Most patients who receive a blood transfusion have no ill effects however patients can experience negative effects from receiving blood or blood products. Blood products contain human blood cell antigens that may react poorly with the receiver's own blood. Blood products can also contain harmful pathogens or bacterial agents. Patients who receive blood tend to be sick to begin with and often cannot tolerate a pathogen or bacterial agent in the blood product. Erroneous introduction of harmful blood products may be as a result of medical negligence and can give rise to a solicitors personal injury compensation claim.

Mild Reactions


      The most common side effect of a blood transfusion is a fever, which accounts for 90 percent of all reactions or about 1-2 percent total of all transfusions. The fever tends to be high and associated with chills, headache, nausea and shortness of breath. It can occur during the transfusion or within 24 hours of receiving the transfusion.


      A patient can develop an allergic reaction to blood products by reacting to components in the plasma of the cells. The end result is often a bad case of hives or urticaria, which are bumps that intensely itch on the skin and skin redness. Wheezing and bodily swelling can occur in more severe cases. Most allergic reaction situations are treated with antihistamines which block the histamine/allergic response. Those known to have allergic reactions to blood products can be treated with antihistamines before receiving their blood transfusion. Failure to pre-treat a patient with antihistamines who has a known allergic problem with blood products constitutes medical negligence.


      A patient who has received many transfusions of blood products in the past can develop antibodies so that all subsequent transfusions cause adverse reactions. This phenomenon is called alloimmunisation. It can sometimes be prevented by ensuring that the red blood cells the patient receives don't contain the offending antigens. If necessary the white blood cells can also be filtered out of the blood product that the patient receives.

Serious Reactions

    Acute Lung Injury

      A 'transfusion-related acute lung injury' or TRALI is an uncommon life threatening condition. Patients develop lung fluid and a high fever, sometimes needing to be on a ventilator. Oxygen is recommended while a watch and wait attitude is adopted in order for the symptoms to pass. Sometimes the subsequent transfusions are given by diluting the blood in saline solution instead of plasma. Failure to treat a TRALI patient effectively or giving them an untreated blood transfusion later in the course of their illness constitutes medical negligence.

    Wrong Blood Type

      If a mistake is made in the laboratory and the wrong type of blood is given to the patient, the results can be serious and life threatening. When such a mistake happens, someone is usually to blame and is the focus of a medical negligence compensation claim. Symptoms include fever, chills, chest and lower back pain, tachycardia, dark or bloody urine, nausea, and vomiting. The patient's blood pressure often drops precipitously and there can be dangerous bleeding and kidney failure. The kidney failure can be permanent or temporary.

    Haemolytic Reaction

      There can be an acute haemolytic reaction that occurs at the time of the transfusion and a delayed haemolytic reaction. If the reaction is delayed, it can occur within a few days to a few weeks of the transfusion. It involves fever and jaundice from hemolyzed red blood cells and usually occurs in individuals who have had multiple blood transfusions in the past. In these cases, it may constitute medical negligence if the blood isn't first tested for the presence of antigens before the blood product is given.

    Graft Versus Host Disease

      Graft versus host disease or GVHD occurs when the white blood cells from the donated blood attack the patient's own tissues. It is particularly common when the patient is severely immuno-suppressed and the blood is from a relative or from someone with a similar tissue type. The patient can develop fever, liver failure, rash and diarrhoea. Doctors can prevent GVHD by irradiating the blood products to incapacitate the white blood cells while keeping the red blood cells intact. Failure to do this may constitute medical negligence.

    Anaphylactic Reaction

      Anaphylactic reactions can occur in cases of blood transfusions. This can involve heart instability, blood pressure instability, wheezing and rapid heart rate. There can be shock, loss of consciousness, and a situation of cardiac arrest. It is a condition more common in those who are IgA deficient and who have IgA antibodies that fight off the transfused blood. If an anaphylactic reaction occurs, the transfusion should be stopped immediately and the patient should receive epinephrine by intravenous means to block the reaction. Future reactions should result in washed red blood cells and plasma products that are given from donors that are IgA deficient. Failure to do this in a patient known to have anaphylaxis from blood transfusions may constitute medical negligence.

    Volume Overload

      Patients who receive a great number of transfusions or young infants can receive volume overload from excessive transfusions. This can lead to cardiopulmonary oedema and extreme shortness of breath. Heart failure and death can occur in extreme cases. In patients receiving multiple blood transfusions and who have renal impairment should have their venous blood pressure and arterial blood pressure monitored to make sure there is no volume overload. Failure to monitor the central venous pressure in an otherwise unstable patient is grounds for a medical negligence compensation claim.

    Hypothermic Reaction

      Infants or those receiving multiple blood transfusions can get hypothermic from the blood transfusion. This can be prevented by having warmed blood products given. In addition, other IV fluids should be given after being warmed to a reasonable temperature.

    Citrate Toxicity

      Citrate toxicity can happen in patients receiving blood who also have hypocalcaemia or hypomagnesaemia. The citrate is in the stored blood product and acts as an anticoagulant. In those receiving multiple blood transfusions and who also have low calcium or magnesium, toxicity from the elevated citrate levels can occur, which can affect the heart. The condition can also cause bleeding problems, especially in those who have pre-existing liver disease or are neonates.

Blood Borne Infections

    Bacteria - Viruses - Parasites

      Blood products are ripe for infection even though they have been tested in a laboratory at the time of donation of the blood. No test for bacteria, viruses or parasites is perfect so mistakes can happen and transfused blood can be contaminated.

    Skin Bacteria Contamination

      Small amounts of skin bacteria can get into the blood during donation. If platelets are contaminated with bacteria and are given to a patient, a serious infection (that can be life threatening) can occur. Blood banks test platelets to be given for transfusion for bacteria but the tests can be falsely reassuring.


      Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are two common diseases that are blood borne in nature. The viruses may have no symptoms or the patient who gets it can have fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, dark urine and jaundice. Hepatitis C tends to be chronic and can lead to liver cancer. The blood bank may be negligent if a patient comes in contact with contaminated donated blood.

    HIV & AIDS

      An HIV infection can result from contaminated blood received from the blood bank. While blood is routinely tested for HIV, there is still a risk of HIV transmission that can lead to chronic immunodeficiency and death due to AIDS or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. The rate of getting HIV from a blood transfusion is about 1 in 1.9 million transfusions.

    Contamination of Blood

      There are many people and organizations involved in the collection, storage and transfusion of blood and blood products. Patients can receive red blood cells, white blood cells or other blood-derived blood products such as clotting factors. Anywhere along the process from collection to transfusion, there can be medical technicians, nurses or other staff people involved with the giving of these blood transfusions to patients, many of whom are already very sick and prone to serious complications should the blood transfusion go wrong.

Blood Transfusion - Medical Negligence Solicitors

If a blood transfusion goes wrong, it can leave a person with an uncomfortable period of time in which he or she suffers discomfort as a result of a mild transfusion reaction. It can also leave the patient with a potentially dangerous infection that may be with the patient for the rest of his or her life. Such transfusions can also kill the patient within a short period of time. In the latter two situations, it can usually be proven that negligence existed somewhere along the chain of events that lead from donation to transfusion. If this be the case a victim should take urgent legal advice from a specialist medical negligence solicitor with a view to making a compensation claim as soon as possible. Time limits apply.

Our medical negligence solicitors offer free advice on all matters relating to negligent medical treatment including contaminated or erroneous blood transfusions. In most cases our medical negligence solicitors are able to deal with all of the legal work at no cost to you. If you would like advice at no cost on medical negligence compensation claims with no further obligation use the contract form or email our solicitors offices and a specialist clinical negligence lawyer will discuss your claim over the telephone and tell you how best to proceed to protect your legal right to claim compensation for personal injury.



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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here