Blood, or red cell, transfusions 

The majority of patients with MDS will need a blood transfusion at some stage, as anaemia is the most common symptom of the disease. Your haemoglobin levels will reveal your degree of anaemia. If you have low haemoglobin levels, you may suffer from tiredness and shortness of breath, symptoms which can seriously affect your quality of life.  That said, some patients with anaemia feel fine and do not need treatment.

As with most treatments for MDS, when it comes to haemoglobin levels and whether or not to transfuse, one size doesn’t fit all

Many patients find blood transfusions greatly relieve their symptoms.  Some clinicians follow a hospital policy for red cell transfusion and use individual patients’ symptoms as a guide as to whether to transfuse, how much is needed, and how often.

Other clinicians start blood transfusions when haemoglobin reaches a certain level.

Whichever policy, it generally results in individual treatment for each MDS patient. The frequency of transfusions will vary from patient to patient.  Some can tolerate a lower haemoglobin level, for instance, younger patients, or those with a strong cardio-vascular system.   Some patients have transfusions every few months, whilst for others the frequency can be every couple of weeks.  The length of time between transfusions generally shortens over time as the disease progresses, but this can vary from person to person.

Dr Poynton talks to MDS UK Support about blood transfusions

This excerpt, featuring Dr Matt Poynton of  Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is from a longer presentation he gave at a recent support meeting, and explains the complexities and processes involved in assessing who needs transfusions and how much/how often.  It also highlights the impact severe anaemia can have on MDS patients' health and quality of life, both for the patients themselves and those supporting them.  

Dr Matt Poynton is an academic haematology registrar at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and is also an Education Fellow for NHS Blood and Transplant.

For more information about how the blood donation system works, follow any of the links below

  • Home - NHS Blood Donation everything you need to know about the Blood Transfusion Service 
  • SERV Kent Bloodrunners Throwing a spotlight on the Kent group of volunteers who keep essential blood supplies moving around the county, and how they do it. 
  • BBC Radio 4: Charles Drew and the Blood Bank a fascinating BBC radio 4 programme about Charles R. Drew, the African American surgeon and researcher who was a pioneer in the field of blood transfusions and storage.
  • SHOT - information from the organisation 'Serious Hazards of Transfusions' that aims to inform and involve patients to improve the safety of transfusions.

National Blood Week 2024 (June 10 – 17) 

At the time of writing, June 2024, it is National Blood Week 2024 (June 10 – 17) #NationalBloodWeek.  Please do encourage friends and family to donate.  Many people only associate blood transfusions with victims of major accidents and are unaware of the daily need for blood to support cancer patients and other chronic conditions. 

NHS Blood and Transplant are launching a big push for new donors ahead of summer and urging the nation’s giving types to book an appointment to save lives.

World Blood Donor Day (14th June)

World Blood Donor Day - Friday 14th June 2024, celebrates blood donors across the world, and what their incredible gift really means to so many people. 

Free donations by shopping