Hemolytic Transfusion Reactions

Erwin Strobel
Transfusion Medicine and Hemotherapy 2008, 35 (5): 346-353
SUMMARY: The risk of hemolytic transfusion reactions (HTRs) is approximately 1:70,000 per unit. Acute HTRs occurring during or within 24 h after administration of a blood product are usually caused by transfusion of incompatible red blood cells (RBCs), and, more rarely, of a large volume of incompatible plasma. Delayed HTRs are caused by a secondary immune response to an antigen on the donor's RBCs. In some patients with delayed HTRs, an additional bystander hemolysis of the patient's RBCs can be assumed. Different mechanisms lead to intra- and extra-vascular hemolysis, such as complete complement activation, phagocytosis of RBCs covered with C3b by macrophages after incomplete complement activation, or destruction of RBCs covered only with IgG by direct cell-cell contact with K cells. The clinical consequences of HTRs are triggered via several pathophysiological pathways like formation of anaphylatoxins, release of cytokines causing a systemic inflammatory response syndrome, activation of the kinin system, the intrinsic clotting cascade and fibrinolysis resulting in hypotension, disseminated intravascular coagulation, diffuse bleeding, and disruption of microcirculation leading to renal failure and shock. In the following, the symptoms of HTR are introduced, laboratory investigations and treatment are described, and some recommendations for prevention are given.

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