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What is a Plasma Transfusion?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A plasma transfusion is the introduction of donor plasma, one of the key components of blood, to a patient's circulatory system. Blood plasma contains clotting factors and nutrients and usually makes up a little over half of a patient's blood volume. Patients may need transfusions because they have bleeding disorders, are actively bleeding and are at risk of hemorrhage, or are at risk of severe bleeding during surgery and other invasive procedures. Hospitals maintain stores of blood as well as contracts with blood banks to make plasma and other blood products available to patients as necessary.

Sources of plasma for transfusion vary. Donors may offer whole blood, allowing a blood bank to process the blood and separate out components. Transfusions of blood products, rather than entire units of whole blood, are very common. Donors can also undergo a procedure called plasmapheresis, where a machine separates plasma from other blood products, retaining the plasma and putting the rest of the blood back into the patient's body. Some patients may donate their own blood products to prepare for surgery and other needs. This allows a doctor to perform an autologous plasma transfusion with the donation the patient banked ahead of time.

In a plasma transfusion, a doctor orders an appropriate amount of plasma for the patient's needs. The blood bank freezes this blood component to keep it stable, and regularly thaws units to make sure supplies at an appropriate temperature will be available. Doctors may request plasma before, during, and after surgery to help the patient's blood clot more quickly, as the plasma increases the number of clotting factors. Other blood products like packed platelets are also available.

People with deficiencies in clotting factors due to hereditary conditions or temporary health problems may receive periodic plasma transfusion treatments. This will help the patient's blood clot more reliably, eliminating complications associated with excessive bleeding like damage to the joints and anemia. A patient in active hemorrhage because of injuries or surgery may also receive a plasma transfusion as part of treatment.

Any plasma used in a transfusion is carefully screened by blood bank employees to make sure it does not contain pathogens and is safe for use in patients. This process is highly reliable, with very low margins of error at most blood banks. Plasma transfusions are generally very safe and can be lifesaving for patients. The process of donation also comes with very limited risks, as nurses make sure people can safely donate before taking blood or any blood products and provide aftercare to make sure people are feeling well after donation is complete.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Sep 17, 2014

My friend was at the hospital and decided to make a blood donation when her father was in the hospital having a plasma transfusion. As it turned out, it was a good thing she did try to donate because the nurse took her blood pressure and found out she was suffering from hypertension, which she is now taking medications to treat.

By Animandel — On Sep 16, 2014

@mobilian - There are some dangers in getting a blood transfusion of any type. This shouldn't be a major concern though because transfusions are still very safe when you compare them to other medical procedures. While most people think the major risk associated with blood transfusions is getting a virus or bacteria that's in the blood, the truth is that human error is more of a risk.

People who handle the blood supply, and the medical professionals who are responsible for making sure that the right blood transfusion guidelines are followed sometimes make mistakes that put patients at risk.

By mobilian33 — On Sep 16, 2014

My mother was a good person who cared about other people, but she would never give blood because she was afraid she was going to get sick. She believed that when you gave blood you were also losing blood cells that helped you to fight off diseases and stay healthy.

Then when there was that big scare about frozen plasma being tainted because donors were not screened closely enough, she really became paranoid about the blood supply and giving blood, and blood transfusions.

By Laotionne — On Sep 15, 2014

I don't understand why everyone who is able to donate blood doesn't do this at least once a year. And you should donate even more often than this when you are able. I think it is a sad comment on how much we care about other people when I read there are shortages of available blood for people in various places who need the blood because of an injury or illness.

After all, it's not like we are hurting ourselves or endangering ourselves when we donate blood. This is one really good and worthwhile thing we can do that costs us nothing.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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