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An autologous transfusion is a blood transfusion that uses the person’s own blood, either collected before surgery, during an operation or post-operatively, instead of using donor blood. Transfusions with donor blood are called allogenic. Though medicine has refined techniques for identifying matches between donors and those needing blood, allogenic blood transfusions are not without risk. There is still concern about the possibility of disease or contamination in blood supplies, the possibility of human error in transfusing the wrong blood type, and the possibility that even a closely matching allogenic transfusion can cause dangerous reactions.
For this reason, and further because some people have strong religious beliefs prohibiting allogenic blood transfusions, doctors have worked hard to create standards and new methods for improving autologous transfusion. In some surgeries, particularly cardiac and lung surgeries, an autologous transfusion may be preferred over allogenic ones.
There are a few ways to go about preparing for autologous transfusion. Some doctors ask patients who are having a scheduled surgery to give blood prior to their surgery. This is then stored specifically for the patient and used if necessary. Another option is to use blood collected during surgery, and transfuse this back into the body. Sometimes, if blood supply runs particularly short, in an emergency setting, there is no choice but to use autologous transfusion, to help a patient regain lost blood from injury or surgery.
Autologous transfusion is not always ideal. In cardiac surgeries, replacing lost blood with a patient’s own blood can cause blood test errors afterward. It can be particularly hard to get an accurate count on cardiac enzymes, and it is possible to miss complications of surgery like heart attack.
When significant injury is present, it may not always be feasible to collect blood, called blood salvaging, and contaminants can exist in the blood. Autologous transfusion is definitely not recommended for patients with cancer, since the blood may contain cancerous cells, which can then invade other parts of the body. People with infections are not good candidates for this type of transfusion, as blood washing may not always clear infectious molecules completely, which can exacerbate health problems after a surgery.
If you are interested in autologous transfusion for an upcoming surgery, you should speak to your surgeon in advance. There often needs to be a cooperative effort involved in order to get blood supplies to the surgeon in time and arrange for blood donation. Alternately the surgeon must make plans to employ operative or post-operative blood salvaging.
One great argument for doing autologous blood banking is that the blood supply is limited. (I suppose you could also balance out by simply donating ahead of time.) The group that uses more donated blood than any other is premature babies. I certainly wouldn't want to be competing with preemies for donated blood!