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Packed red blood cells

Packed red blood cells
Blausen 0086 Blood Bag.png
Bag of packed red blood cells.
Clinical data
SynonymsStored packed red blood cells, packed cells, red cell concentrate, red cell component
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  • none

Packed red blood cells, also known as packed cells, are red blood cells that have been separated for blood transfusion.[1] They are typically used in anemia that is either causing symptoms or when the hemoglobin is less than usually 70–80 g/L (7–8 g/dL).[1][2][3] In adults, one unit brings up hemoglobin levels by about 10 g/L (1 g/dL).[4][5] Repeated transfusions may be required in people receiving cancer chemotherapy or who have hemoglobin disorders.[1] Cross matching is typically required before the blood is given.[1] It is given by injection into a vein.[6]

Side effects include allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis, red blood cell breakdown, infection, volume overload, and lung injury.[1] With current preparation methods in the developed world the risk of viral infections such as hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS are less than one in a million.[1] However, the risks of infection are higher in low income countries.[7] Packed red blood cells are produced from whole blood or by apheresis.[8] They typically last for three to six weeks.[8]

The widespread use of packed red blood cells began in the 1960s.[9] It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system.[10] In the United Kingdom they cost about 120 pounds per unit.[11] A number of other versions also exist including whole blood, leukocyte reduced red blood cells, and washed red blood cells.[1]

Medical uses

Blood transfusion is typically recommended when hemoglobin levels reach 70 g/L (7 g/dL) in those who have stable vital signs.[12] For those with heart disease it is recommended at 80g/L (8 g/dL).[12][3]

RBCs are used to restore oxygen-carrying capacity in people with anemia due to trauma or other medical problems, and are by far the most common blood component used in transfusion medicine. Historically they were transfused as part of whole blood, are now typically used separately as RBCs and plasma components. The process of identifying a compatible blood product for transfusion is complicated.

Side effects

Side effects can include allergic reactions including anaphylaxis, red blood cell breakdown, fluid overload, infection, and lung injury.[1] Giving incompatible RBCs to a person can be fatal.[13]

With current testing methods in high-income countries the risk of infection is very low.[7][14][15] However, in low-income countries the risk of a blood donation being positive for HIV, hepatitis C, or syphilis is approximately 1%, and the risk of it being hepatitis B positive is approximately 4%.[7] Although the World Health Organization recommends that all donated blood is screened for these infections, at least 13 low-income countries are unable to screen all their donated blood for at least one of these infections.[7]

Compatibility testing

To avoid transfusion reactions, the donor and recipient blood are tested, typically ordered as a "type and screen" for the recipient. The "type" in this case is the ABO and Rh type, specifically the phenotype, and the "screen" refers to testing for atypical antibodies that might cause transfusion problems. The typing and screening are also performed on donor blood. The blood groups represent antigens on the surface of the red blood cells which might react with antibodies in the recipient.

The ABO blood group system has four basic phenotypes: O, A, B, and AB. In the former Soviet Union these were called I, II, III, and IV, respectively. There are two important antigens in the system: A and B. Red cells without A or B are called type O, and red cells with both are called AB. Except in unusual cases like infants or seriously immunocompromised individuals, all people will have antibodies to any ABO blood type that isn't present on their own red blood cells, and will have an immediate hemolytic reaction to a unit that is not compatible with their ABO type. In addition to the A and B antigens, there are rare variations which can further complicate transfusions, such as the Bombay phenotype.

The Rh blood group system consists of nearly around 50 different antigens, but the one of the greatest clinical interest is the "D" antigen, though it has other names and is commonly just called "negative" or "positive." Unlike the ABO antigens, a recipient will not usually react to the first incompatible transfusion because the adaptive immune system does not immediately recognize it. After an incompatible transfusion the recipient may develop an antibody to the antigen and will react to any further incompatible transfusions. This antibody is important because it is the most frequent cause of hemolytic disease of the newborn. Incompatible red blood cells are sometimes given to recipients who will never become pregnant, such as males or postmenopausal women, as long as they do not have an antibody, since the greatest risk of Rh incompatible blood is to current or future pregnancies.[16]

For RBCs, type O negative blood is considered a "universal donor" as recipients with types A, B, or AB can almost always receive O negative blood safely. Type AB positive is considered a "universal recipient" because they can receive the other ABO/Rh types safely. These are not truly universal, as other red cell antigens can further complicate transfusions.

There are many other human blood group systems and most of them are only rarely associated with transfusion problems. A screening test is used to identify if the recipient has any antibodies to any of these other blood group systems. If the screening test is positive, a complex set of tests must follow to identify which antibody the recipient has by process of elimination. Finding suitable blood for transfusion when a recipient has multiple antibodies or antibodies to extremely common antigens can be very difficult and time-consuming.

Because this testing can take time, doctors will sometimes order a unit of blood transfused before it can be completed if the recipient is in critical condition. Typically two to four units of O negative blood are used in these situations, since they are unlikely to cause a reaction.[17] A potentially fatal reaction is possible if the recipient has pre-existing antibodies, and uncrossmatched blood is only used in dire circumstances. Since O negative blood is not common, other blood types may be used if the situation is desperate.

Collection, processing, and use

Most frequently, whole blood is collected from a blood donation and is spun in a centrifuge. The red blood cells are denser and settle to the bottom, and the majority of the liquid blood plasma remains on the top. The plasma is separated and the red blood cells are kept with a minimal[clarification needed] amount of fluid. Generally, an additive solution of citrate, dextrose, and adenine is mixed with the cells to keep them alive during storage. This process is sometimes done as automated apheresis, where the centrifuging and mixing take place at the donation site.[18]

Red blood cells are sometimes modified to address specific patient needs. The most common modification is leukoreduction, where the donor blood is filtered to remove white cells, although this is becoming increasingly universal throughout the blood supply (over 80% in the US, 100% in Europe). The blood may also be irradiated, which destroys the DNA in the white cells and prevents graft versus host disease, which may happen if the blood donor and recipient are closely related, and is also important for immunocompromized patients. Other modifications, such as washing the RBCs to remove any remaining plasma, are much less common.

With additive solutions, RBCs are typically kept at refrigerated temperatures for up to 45 days.[19] In some patients, use of RBCs that are much fresher is important; for example, US guidelines call for blood less than seven days old to be used for neonatals, to "ensure optimal cell function". However, the phenomenon of RBC storage lesion and its implications for transfusion efficacy are complex and remain controversial (see blood bank and blood transfusion articles).

With the addition of glycerol or other cryoprotectants, RBCs can be frozen and thus stored for much longer (this is not common). Frozen RBCs are typically assigned a ten-year expiration date, though older units have been transfused successfully. The freezing process is expensive and time-consuming and is generally reserved for rare units such as ones that can be used in patients that have unusual antibodies. Since frozen RBCs have glycerol added, the added glycerol must be removed by washing the red blood cells using special equipment, such as the IBM 2991 cell processor in a similar manner to washing RBCs.

The processing (often termed "manufacture", since the end result is deemed a biologic biopharmaceutical product) and the storage can occur at a collection center and/or a blood bank. RBCs are mixed with an anticoagulant and storage solution which provides nutrients and aims to preserve viability and functionality of the cells (limiting their so-called "storage lesion"), which are stored at refrigerated temperatures for up to 42 days (in the US), except for the rather unusual long-term storage in which case they can be frozen for up to 10 years. The cells are separated from the fluid portion of the blood after it is collected from a donor, or during the collection process in the case of apheresis. The product is then sometimes modified after collection to meet specific patient requirements.


The product is typically abbreviated RBC, pRBC, PRBC, and sometimes StRBC or even LRBC (the latter being to indicate those that have been leukoreduced, which is now true for the vast majority of RBC units). The name "Red Blood Cells" with initial capitals indicates a standardized blood product in the United States.[20] Without capitalization, it is simply generic without specifying whether or not the cells comprise a blood product, patient blood, etc. (with other generic terms for it being "erythrocyte" and "red cell").

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Connell, NT (December 2016). "Transfusion Medicine". Primary care. 43 (4): 651–659. doi:10.1016/j.pop.2016.07.004. PMID 27866583.
  2. ^ Carson, JL; Guyatt, G; Heddle, NM; Grossman, BJ; Cohn, CS; Fung, MK; Gernsheimer, T; Holcomb, JB; Kaplan, LJ; Katz, LM; Peterson, N; Ramsey, G; Rao, SV; Roback, JD; Shander, A; Tobian, AA (15 November 2016). "Clinical Practice Guidelines From the AABB: Red Blood Cell Transfusion Thresholds and Storage". JAMA. 316 (19): 2025–2035. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.9185. PMID 27732721.
  3. ^ a b "Blood transfusion Guidance and guidelines". NICE. Retrieved 2018-09-07.
  4. ^ Plumer, Ada Lawrence (2007). Plumer's Principles and Practice of Intravenous Therapy. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 423. ISBN 9780781759441. Archived from the original on 2017-09-14.
  5. ^ Robinson, S.; Harris, A.; Atkinson, S.; Atterbury, C.; Bolton-Maggs, P.; Elliott, C.; Hawkins, T.; Hazra, E.; Howell, C. (2017-11-06). "The administration of blood components: a British Society for Haematology Guideline". Transfusion Medicine. 28 (1): 3–21. doi:10.1111/tme.12481. ISSN 0958-7578. PMID 29110357.
  6. ^ Linton, Adrianne Dill (2015). Introduction to Medical-Surgical Nursing. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 287. ISBN 9781455776412. Archived from the original on 2017-09-14.
  7. ^ a b c d "Blood safety and availability". World Health Organization. 22 June 2017. Retrieved 2018-09-07.
  8. ^ a b Parsons, Polly E.; Wiener-Kronish, Jeanine P. (2012). Critical Care Secrets5: Critical Care Secrets. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 385. ISBN 0323085008. Archived from the original on 2017-09-14.
  9. ^ Das, P. C.; Smit-Sibinga, C. T. h; Halie, M. R. (2012). Supportive therapy in haematology. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 190. ISBN 9781461325772. Archived from the original on 2017-01-10.
  10. ^ "WHO Model List of Essential Medicines (19th List)" (PDF). World Health Organization. April 2015. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 December 2016. Retrieved 8 December 2016.
  11. ^ Yentis, Steven M.; Hirsch, Nicholas P.; Ip, James (2013). Anaesthesia and Intensive Care A-Z: An Encyclopedia of Principles and Practice. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 147. ISBN 9780702053757. Archived from the original on 2017-01-12.
  12. ^ a b Carson, Jeffrey L.; Guyatt, Gordon; Heddle, Nancy M.; Grossman, Brenda J.; Cohn, Claudia S.; Fung, Mark K.; Gernsheimer, Terry; Holcomb, John B.; Kaplan, Lewis J.; Katz, Louis M.; Peterson, Nikki; Ramsey, Glenn; Rao, Sunil V.; Roback, John D.; Shander, Aryeh; Tobian, Aaron A. R. (12 October 2016). "Clinical Practice Guidelines From the AABB". JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.9185.
  13. ^ "Complications of Transfusion: Transfusion Medicine: Merck Manual Professional". Archived from the original on 23 October 2010. Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  14. ^ PHB Bolton-Maggs (Ed) D Poles et al. on behalf of the Serious Hazards of Transfusion (SHOT) Steering Group. The 2017 Annual SHOT Report (2018).[]
  15. ^ "Diseases and Organisms | Blood Safety | CDC". 2017-07-18. Retrieved 2018-09-07.
  16. ^ "Guidelines for Blood Component Substitution in Adults" (PDF). Provincial Blood Coordinating Program, Newfoundland and Labrador. Archived (PDF) from the original on 14 April 2012. Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  17. ^ "The appropriate use of group O RhD negative red cells" (PDF). National Health Service. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 April 2012. Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  18. ^ "Circular of information for the use of human blood and blood components" (PDF). AABB. p. 11. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 October 2011. Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  19. ^ "Circular of information for the use of human blood and blood components" (PDF). AABB. p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 October 2011. Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  20. ^ "21 CFR 640.10". GPO. Archived from the original on 26 October 2011. Retrieved 3 November 2011.