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Blood Basics > Blood in the Body

Blood and the Treatment of Disease

Modern medicine would not be possible without blood transfusions. Red blood cells, for example, are critical for patients requiring supplemental oxygen-carrying capacity. Blood loss in surgery or in traumatic accidents can be replaced, allowing life-sustaining procedures such as open-heart surgery and organ transplantation to take place. In addition, severe anemic conditions such as sickle-cell anemia, caused by the under-production or defective production of red cells, can be managed by red cell transfusion.

Blood platelets are critical elements in the blood-clotting process. Patients with malignant illnesses such as leukemia may have an insufficient number of platelets for effective clotting due to the disease itself or the harsh treatments necessary to combat these diseases. Transfusion of blood platelets now permits these patients to complete aggressive treatments without the risk of serious bleeding episodes. Blood-clotting factor concentrates made from large pools of plasma have revolutionized the treatment of congenital clotting factor deficiencies such as hemophilia.

Blood transfusion has risks, including the transmission of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. Modern screening techniques, however, have made blood an extremely safe medical procedure. When transfusions are necessary, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

-- Richard J. Davey, M.D.
Chief Medical Officer
New York Blood Center