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The Basics of a Blood Transfusion

Updated: May 26, 2022

A Blood Transfusion is the administration of whole blood or a blood product through an IV line.

What this means is that, when patients have a low quantity of blood in their body, we administer a ‘bag’ of blood through a cannula or other venous lines. There are many reasons why patients might have a low blood volume and require a blood transfusion, but the most common problems include:

  1. Trauma (Accidents can break bones which would create internal bleeding, there might also be tears in the skin and organs causing severe bleeding)

  2. Surgery 

  3. Ulcers can form anywhere in the body, but the if they form in the gastric tract there’s a high chance that they would bleed.

  4. Deficiency in the production of red blood cells

  5. A problem in the clotting factors

This article will take you through the different types of ‘blood bags’ that you’ll come across as a nurse, and it will guide you into understanding their unique functions.

Firstly, as a Nurse you will no longer refer to it as ‘blood’ but you’ll become more specific. With the most common transfusions being RCCs, FFPs and Plasma.

Red Cell Concentrates (RCCs)

RCCs are ordered for patients that have a low haemoglobin level. Administering RCC will increase the oxygen levels in the tissues and so it will treat and prevent tissue hypoxia (low oxygen level in the tissues).

RCCs are stored at 4ᵒC, so you will need a cooler bag with an ice pack to transport the bags of blood (aka. Units of blood) from the blood bank to the ward.

Assuming that you are working in a standard non-critical ward, and your patient is not deteriorating, 1 unit of RCC (meaning 1 bag of Red Blood) can be administered over 2-3hours.

Fresh Frozen Plasma (FFP)

FFPs are given to patients that have a coagulation problem and an active bleed. They are stored at -18ᵒC or less, and then thawed to approximately 34ᵒC before administration.

You will not need an ice pack to transport FFPs, and 1 unit should be administered in roughly 30 minutes unless the patient’s condition indicates otherwise.


Platelets are often administered to patients that have a major bleed most commonly caused by an accident or a deficiency in platelets known as thrombocytopenia.

Stored at 22ᵒC, platelets must be used within 5 days. You can administer 1 unit of platelets in 30-60 minutes unless the patient’s condition indicates otherwise.

Now that you have understood the Basics of a Blood Transfusion, its time to learn:

nursing iv infusion blood transfusion

Have you ever seen a blood transfusion? What was the reason for the patient needing the transfusion?

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  1. Brunskill S, Thomas S, Whitmore E, et al. What Is the Maximum Time That a Unit of Red Blood Cells Can Be Safely Left Out of Controlled Temperature Storage? Transfusion Medicine Reviews. 2012;26(3):209-223.e3. doi:10.1016/j.tmrv.2011.09.005

  2. Hill J. Hot Blooded: The Basics of Blood Warmers. Biomedical Instrumentation & Technology. 2006;40(6):443-444. doi:10.2345/i0899-8205-40-6-443.1

  3. Basu D, Kulkarni R. Overview of blood components and their preparation. Indian Journal of Anaesthesia. 2014;58(5):529. doi:10.4103/0019-5049.144647

  4. Fresh Frozen Plasma (FFP): Component Characteristics, Storage, and Thawing Requirements –, Laboratory Continuing Education. Published 2020. Accessed January 22, 2020.

  5. National Blood Authority | National Blood Authority. Published 2013. Accessed June 18, 2019.

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