Platelet transfusions may be required for various medical conditions and are given when your body requires more platelets.
The effects of a blood transfusion are only temporary unless your body begins to produce enough of its own platelets.
Platelets are actually cell fragments formed from a large cell called a megakaryocyte. The role of platelets is to ensure our blood clots, to prevent us bleeding to death. Platelets live for 8-10 days, which is why a platelet transfusion can tend to be given more frequently then a blood transfusion.
Thrombocytopaenia is a low platelet count and can result from bone marrow cancer, autoimmune disease, infection or treatment such as chemotherapy.
Aim of platelet transfusion
A platelet transfusion is aimed at stopping bleeding and is commonly given to people with a low platelet count, poor functioning platelets, or those at risk of bleeding.
Where platelet donations come from
People usually receive platelets from anonymous blood donors. Each blood donation generally provides three blood products – red blood cells, plasma, and platelets. Every blood donation is tested for a variety of bacteria and viruses, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis and human T-lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1).
Bags of donated platelets need to remain in motion, or they can form clumps. For this reason, platelets are stored on an agitator (gently vibrates from side to side) and the product needs to be used soon after being removed.
Receiving a platelet transfusion
Before accepting a platelet transfusion, it is important your doctor explains both the benefits and the risks to you. You may be required to sign a consent form.
Your doctor then prescribes the platelets for you on your medication chart, and states the time it will take to be administered by nursing staff. Then your blood is cross-matched (see next paragraph) and the platelets are issued from the hospital or day centre pathology. Prior to receiving platelets, the nurses will check that you are the correct person to receive that particular product.
Cross-matching is a process where a small sample of blood is taken from the person requiring the platelet transfusion and sent to a laboratory to determine compatibility with available donor platelets in the blood bank.
The cross-match process is important, as a mismatch of blood products can be life threatening. Once a match is found between the recipient and donor blood types, the platelets are then labelled with the details of the recipient and is ready to be transfused to the patient. Usually, a cross-match lasts only 72 hours, then the process needs to be carried out again if platelets are still required.
Despite the correct matching of platelets, reactions are still possible. Signs that you may be having a transfusion reaction include shortness of breath, palpitations, fever, chills, skin rash, hives and/or itchiness.
Transfusion reactions are managed well with antihistamine medications, sometimes with steroids, and by discontinuing the transfusion, either until the symptoms have subsided or completely cease. Your nurse will take your blood pressure, pulse and temperature before and several times during the transfusion.
If you have a question at any time before or during a transfusion, ask your health care professional.
www.transfusion.com.au (Australian Red Cross)