Information for the public
Alternatives to blood transfusions for people having an operation
For people having an operation, there are often ways to try and avoid the need for a blood transfusion.
If you are having an operation and have anaemia caused by a lack of iron, you should be offered iron to treat this. You will usually be given iron tablets, although you may also be given iron that you can put into liquid and drink. If these kinds of iron don't work for you (for example because they give you an upset stomach), you may be offered iron injections into your veins.
Blood clots form to stop you bleeding when you are injured, for example by a cut to your skin or during an operation. Tranexamic acid is a medicine that helps your blood to clot better. This can stop you losing too much blood during an operation. The operating team can also use special equipment to collect any blood you lose, so that your own blood can be given back to you. This is called 'cell salvage'.
Depending on how much blood your healthcare team thinks you could lose during your operation, you might be offered tranexamic acid. If you are likely to lose a lot of blood (such as in an operation on your heart) you may also be offered cell salvage.
You shouldn't normally be offered cell salvage without tranexamic acid, as it doesn't work as well on its own.
Erythropoietin is a medicine that helps your body to make more red blood cells. You shouldn't normally be offered erythropoietin, because it doesn't work well at helping people who are having an operation to avoid the need for a blood transfusion. However, you may still be offered erythropoietin if you cannot have a blood transfusion because it goes against your beliefs, or because the type of blood you need is not available.