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The safest drop of blood is your own

September 13, 2006

This article is about donating your blood for your own use – not a very well known aspect of blood donation in India.

Do you have surgery scheduled for which you need someone else’s blood? Well, there is a risk that the blood you receive is contaminated. As certain diseases take time to show up in the blood, the only blood which completely eliminates the risk of donor-transmitted diseases is your own.

You could also have a rare blood type, and the blood you need may not be in stock.
Thus, only your own blood, called autologous blood in medical terms, can save you.

Few people use their own blood
Despite the critical importance of autologous blood, at the Shushrusha blood bank last year (2004) there were only eight autologous blood donors out of a total of 1600, a measly .2 per cent and this year to date there have been just 17 our of a total of 835. At Lilavati Hospital, autologous blood donations have not crossed double digits in all of the last five years. The picture is not very different in other blood banks.

But if autologous blood is such a good thing, why don’t doctors recommend it?
The causes for this dismal scenario are several. Firstly, autologous blood suits only those surgeries which require between one to three units of blood. Secondly, patients may not be fit enough to donate their own blood before surgery. Lastly, there is a certain lack of enthusiasm amongst doctors and patients. Dr. Sunil Parekh, consulting haematologist, feels that:

…it is the ‘negativity amongst both doctors and patients’ that hinders the frequent use of autologous blood.

On their part, patient are reluctant to donate their own blood, overwrought as they are with the thought of impending surgery. And doctors have reservations which have to do with the health and age of the patient. They may fear that the patient may not be able to recover his/her haemoglobin to normal levels before surgery, even though blood is drawn several weeks in advance.

Many such fears are unfounded.
Haemoglobin levels come down only by one point after donating one unit of blood. If you have a haemoglobin of 12 or more and are healthy, go ahead and donate. Dr. Abhay Bhave, consulting haematologist explains:

To donate blood a patient needs normal haemoglobin, blood pressure and sugar, no history of seizures, no fever or infection and no organ problems.

The donor patient can also be a child, although the volume of blood drawn has to be appropriate to his or her weight. There is absolutely no age limit for those who want to donate blood for their own use.

Some surgeries allow use of autologous blood on the spot
Amazingly, in some type of surgeries, the blood lost during surgery can be salvaged, purified and re-infused into the patient during surgery! Dr. Sandeep Honnekeri, cardiac surgeon, does this on a regular basis:

For cardiac patients one cannot risk drawing blood beforehand and thus blood is salvaged from the surgical area during the operation

There is special equipment in the operating theatre that does this.

Autologous blood techniques are life savers in a country like India, which has a perennial blood shortage. Besides, allogeneic blood (blood donated by others) even if it’s from a reputed blood bank, carries with it an inherent danger of infection.

Remember, your own blood is the safest blood. Doctors know it and that is why if they themselves have to operated upon, they prefer autologous blood. That should tell you something.

(This article, written by me was published in The Times of India, Mumbai, in 2005 and the statistics from the blood banks were taken after speaking to the concerned people personally )

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sahil permalink
    December 27, 2007 11:55 pm

    Thanks for this article or else I wouldn’t know about this theme. I’ll commit myself to remembering this medical jargon “autologous blood”. Indeed, in times of emergency the safest blood is your own. You write about Lilavati in Mumbai? Do hospitals in other cities also follow this procedure? What if the patient is in a coma? Who gives consent for such operations in that case?

  2. December 28, 2007 12:02 am

    The consent is given by the doctor who is treating the patient because unless the doctor feels it’s safe he will not agree that the patient donate his own blood. Ofcourse, one can always store one’s blood for an emergency and in that case doctor’s consent is not required because the donor would be healthy and is storing for future use. Yes, most good blood banks in major cities will have this facility.

  3. Sahil permalink
    December 28, 2007 12:12 am

    “Ofcourse, one can always store one’s blood for an emergency”

    There’s only one problem with that; in case of an emergency (e.g. hospitalization after accident), they may prefer fresh blood not something that was frozen for months and years. I’ll leave some medical expert to comment on that -which option is better.

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