Blood transfusions can be life-saving for people with sickle cell disease in emergency situations like severe acute chest syndrome. Chronic blood transfusions (scheduled blood transfusions every three to four weeks) are also important for some people with sickle cell disease like individuals who have had a stroke. While blood transfusion therapy is very helpful, transfusions also have risks such as alloimmunization and iron overload.
The immune system is like a national army protecting your body from foreign invaders. It functions to search and destroy all things in your body that are not you, like bacteria and viruses. One weapon the immune system makes to attack pathogens is antibodies. Antibodies are like little missiles that attach to foreign particles and mark them as an enemy to be destroyed.
What does the immune system have to do with blood transfusions?
The immune system can sometimes identify life-saving donor cells as "foreign" since your body did not make them. When this process happens your body makes antibodies against the donor cells. For example, when an individual has made antibodies against a particular red blood cell, if he or she receives a blood transfusion of that type of red blood cell, it would be destroyed and could cause major problems. These antibodies make it more difficult to obtain a blood donor match.
Just like it is crucial for you to know your allergies to medications, it is very important to know if you have developed any antibodies to donor red blood cells. This information can help find the best blood for you in the blood bank next time you need a transfusion. Information about alloantibodies to red blood cells should be on a medical alert bracelet that can "speak for you" when you are in an emergency situation.
Iron is an important mineral used by the body; however, too much iron causes problems. Blood contains iron so when an individual receives a blood transfusion, he or she also receives a significant amount of iron. The body does not remove iron well, so over time if an individual has had many blood transfusions, the amount of iron in his or her body can rise to dangerous levels. In particular, iron can cause problems in the heart, liver and endocrine glands.
How do you get rid of iron?
If your iron level reaches a certain level, you should start taking a medication to remove iron called "ExJade." It is very important to take this medication every day to bring the iron in your body to a safe level.