Red cell transfusions

Woman holding a blood drop
What are red cells?

Red cells look a bit like doughnuts but with an indented centre instead of a hole. 

They give blood its colour and make up 40% of your total blood volume. A protein called haemoglobin makes them red.

Lady holding a blue question mark
What do they do?

Red cells have two main functions: 

  • Carrying oxygen to all parts of your body, and
  • Removing waste products such as carbon dioxide from your body.

Holding your baby for the first time is always special. But for Jodie, who needed a life-saving blood transfusion after the birth, it was even sweeter.

Jodie, transfusion recipient

Why might I need a red cell transfusion?

If you develop severe anaemia, a red cell transfusion may be needed. Anaemia is the medical term for low haemoglobin (not enough red blood cells). Anaemia can be caused by a few things: 

Are there options other than a red cell transfusion?

Certain treatments or operations can’t be safely carried out without a red cell transfusion. However, if other care options are available, they should be used.

For example, some causes of anaemia (like low iron levels) may be managed by treating the anaemia instead of giving a red cell transfusion. In that case, your doctor may recommend iron supplements instead.

Who do red cell transfusions help? 

As the image below shows, red cells can help in many ways: from treating cancer and blood diseases to other causes of anaemia, and so much more. 

How red cells are used, to treat cancer and blood diseases, other causes of anaemia, and much more.

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illustration of a doctor in a white coat with stethoscope
Avoid a transfusion

There are some things you can do to lower the chances of needing a transfusion.

Check out these tips
illustration of a woman holding a red blood pack
Receiving a transfusion

Everything you need to know, from what ‘informed consent’ means through to your recovery.

See our transfusion guide
illustration of a scientist holding a magnifying glass and leaning over in front of a large red blood drop

Anaemia can be caused by a few medical conditions. Find out more about what it means for you.

Know more about anaemia