About Transfusion Complications Monitoring

A person receiving a blood transfusion.

A person receiving a blood transfusion.

Red blood cell (RBC) transfusions (procedures in which blood is given through an intravenous [IV] line into a blood vessel) are an important part of medical care for many patients with a hemoglobinopathy. Hemoglobinopathies is the medical term for a group of blood disorders and diseases that affect RBCs. These disorders include both sickle cell disease (SCD) and thalassemia.

RBC transfusions are often used to

  • Treat people with severe forms of thalassemia who develop anemia, a condition in which the blood does not have enough healthy RBCs; and
  • Prevent health problems for people with SCD.

While these transfusions are very helpful for treating issues related to blood disorders, they can lead to additional health problems. CDC has been working with partners to better understand these health problems.

In 2014, CDC began a 5-year project to learn more about health issues that sometimes occur after people with SCD or thalassemia receive blood transfusions. This project aimed to find ways to decrease health problems resulting from blood transfusions and to show that reducing these problems improves overall patient health.

The project’s goal was to improve the quality and length of life for people with a hemoglobinopathy. CDC partnered with Georgia State University, the University of Florida, and the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital – Oakland to

  • Improve healthcare providers’ knowledge about health problems resulting from blood transfusions by developing trainings on transfusion guidelines and strategies for reducing complications in people with SCD or thalassemia. Training topics included:
    • Alloimmunization — a condition in which a person’s immune system sees the blood from a transfusion as possibly harmful and, therefore, tries to destroy it
    • Iron overload — a buildup of excess iron in the body that can result in organ damage if left untreated
    • Infection
  • Develop an educational series for people with thalassemia or SCD; and
  • Conduct focus groups (group discussions guided by a trained leader) for people with thalassemia or SCD to better understand their knowledge about transfusion, experiences with transfusion, and ways to share information about a person’s transfusion history with their other healthcare providers to ensure safe treatment.