Navigate Up

Pediatric Center - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Blood donation before surgery


Your surgeon will be very careful during surgery to keep down the amount of blood you lose. But blood may continue to ooze from tissues that were cut, even after the operation is over. To replace this blood, you may be given a blood transfusion. This is a safe and common procedure, during which you receive blood through an intravenous (IV) line placed in one of your blood vessels.

Several sources of blood are described here.

Blood from the public (volunteer blood donation)

The most common source of blood given during or after surgery is from volunteers in the general public. This kind of donation is called homologous blood donation. If you choose this method of receiving donated blood, you will have no extra costs or further tests.

Many communities have a blood bank at which any healthy person can donate blood. This blood is tested to see if it matches yours.

You may have read about the danger of becoming infected with hepatitis, HIV, or other viruses after a blood transfusion. Blood transfusions are not 100% safe. But the current blood supply is thought to be safer now than ever. Donated blood is tested for many different infections. Also, blood centers keep a list of unsafe donors.

Donors answer a detailed list of questions about their health before they are allowed to donate. These questions include risk factors for infections that can be passed through their blood, such as sexual habits, drug use, and current and past travel history.

Directed donor blood from a family member or friend

This method involves a family member or friend donating blood before your surgery. This blood is then set aside and held only for you, if you need blood transfusion after surgery.

Blood from these donors must be collected at least a few days before it is needed. The blood is tested to see if it matches yours and is also screened for infection.

Most of the time, you need to arrange with your hospital or local blood bank before your surgery to have directed donor blood.

It is important to note that there is no evidence that receiving blood from family members or friends is safer than receiving blood from the general public.

Autologous blood donation (your own blood)

Although blood donated by the general public and used for most people is thought to be very safe, some people choose to use a method called autologous blood donation. Autologous blood is blood donated by you, which you later receive if you need a transfusion during or after surgery.

  • You can have blood taken from 6 weeks to 5 days before your surgery.
  • Your blood is stored and is good for a few weeks from the day it is collected.
  • If your blood is not used during or after surgery, it is thrown away.

If you wish to donate your own blood, you must make arrangements yourself. Your hospital may be set up to receive these donations and store the blood. Otherwise, your local blood bank may handle this process. Most of the time, you will need to pay for this process.

Problems can arise with autologous blood donation.

  • Donating this blood can make you anemic, or have a lower blood count, before your surgery. As a result, it is still possible that you will need to receive a blood transfusion with blood donated by the general public.
  • In rare cases, a mistake by the blood center or the hospital can result in you receiving the wrong unit of blood. If this happens, you may have a reaction to the blood you receive.

To help your body make more blood cells, your doctor may ask you to take extra vitamins and minerals, including:

  • Iron tablets
  • Folic acid
  • Vitamin C

You may also get a shot to boost your blood count before surgery.


Cushing MM, Ness PM. Principles of red blood cell transfusion. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ Jr, Silberstein LE, et al., eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 112.

Miller RD. Transfusion therapy. In: Miller RD, Eriksson LI, Fleisher LA, et al., eds. Miller's Anesthesia. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 55.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Blood and blood products. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Available at Accessed September 24, 2013.

Updated: 9/20/2013

Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA