Blood transfusions are given to some patients in the form of whole blood, which contains every blood element in the exact proportions found circulating in the human body. However, whole blood is not used as commonly as in the past. It is more typical now to receive one or more "fractions" or "components" of blood, some of which are listed below. Major blood fractions are not acceptable to some patients, such as Jehovah's Witnesses.
Major blood fractions (primary blood components)
- Packed red blood cells: Given when hemoglobin (or hematocrit) drops below a critical level, these units contain red blood cells that have been separated from other blood components.
- White blood cells: Given very rarely, these cells may be administered to patients who have low white blood cell counts and severe infections that don't improve with antibiotics.
- Platelets: Platelets help improve clotting in vulnerable patients.
- Plasma: The liquid part of blood, where the major coagulation factors are found.
Minor blood fractions
- Clotting factors: These factors can decrease bleeding in individuals with various types of hemophilia.
- Albumin: This major protein constituent of blood is often given to individuals who need to retain more fluid in their bloodstream, such as burn victims or patients with liver failure or extremely heavy bleeding (hemorrhage).
- Growth factors: These are chemicals that can be separated out from the plasma. Growth factors aid in wound healing.
- Immunoglobulins: Sometimes just called "globulins," these can be given to prevent certain infections after an individual has already been exposed to that disease (such as rabies or tetanus).
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Palm Beach Cancer Institute, West Palm Beach, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.