(Undated) March 9, 2007 - Blood transfusions for surgery patients may have unintended consequences, putting some patients at higher risk for infection, heart rhythm problems and death.
Now more hospitals are using techniques to reduce the need for blood transfusions for surgery patients.
Donor blood shortages and concerns about emerging viruses and infections in the blood supply have a lot of people asking about alternatives to blood transfusions. It's why bloodless medicine is a growing trend in patient healthcare.
Blood loss during surgery is being managed down to the last drop, helping patients avoid being transfused with donated blood.
"We are limiting our blood transfusions more and more recognizing that perhaps they're not doing exactly what we thought they were doing and they're having more risks than we originally thought," said Dr. Lori Heller.
Heller runs the Blood Management Program at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.
"Patients can have an increased risk of pneumonia, an increased risk of wound infection, increased risk of bone infections if they received a blood transfusion during the course of their operation," Heller said.
Four months ago, Dale Reisner, herself a physician, had open heart surgery. She opted for blood conservation, which meant recycling her own blood during surgery.
"If we could transfuse fresh blood, and we can transfuse your own fresh blood, that would be ideal," said Heller.
During surgery, machines called cell savers recycle discarded blood. It's cleaned and spun down to the red blood cells, which are transfused back if needed.
"I don't think people should be afraid of it and it just needs to be more in the conscious minds of both patients and providers to suggest it and prepare ahead of time," said Reisner.
Patients can also opt to have blood removed immediately before surgery and transfused back near the end of the operation.
In life-or-death situations, blood transfusions can save lives. Pre-donating blood 40 days before surgery has been popular but is no longer considered the best option. With improved blood clotting factors and new surgical devices to limit excessive bleeding, bloodless medicine is becoming more routine every day.