Early Winter 2010
Ask the Experts: What can I do to avoid a blood transfusion?
Ask the Experts: What can I do to avoid a blood transfusion?

Gil Lancaster, MD

Q: I’m having elective, minimally invasive surgery in a few weeks. Although there’s a slim chance I’ll need a blood transfusion, I would like to avoid having one altogether, if possible. Is there anything I can do–nutritionally or physically–ahead of time?

Blood Management Services Medical Director Gil Lancaster, MD, responds:

A: You already know that surgeons use blood transfusions for various medical situations, such as when a patient loses a significant amount of blood during a surgical procedure, in childbirth or due to a serious injury.

It’s great that you’re thinking about this well in advance of your procedure. There are actually several things you can do in the weeks and days prior to surgery to lessen the probability of needing a transfusion.

  • Eat foods rich in iron. You can build up your iron levels and red blood cell count by eating foods high in iron. Good sources of iron include red meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables and dried beans, such as kidney beans, lentils and lima beans.
  • Eat foods rich in B vitamins, folates, vitamin C and riboflavin. These can be found in meat, nuts, citrus fruit and milk, or in vitamin supplements.
  • Rest. Get plenty of sleep in the days leading up to surgery.
  • Know your options. Ask your doctor or surgeon about the options that may be available to you. Some patients elect to have their blood collected, cleaned and recycled back into the body during surgery. In addition, there are medications that can stimulate the production of blood cells, helping to minimize or eliminate the need for a transfusion.
  • Make sure your doctor and/or surgeon knows how you feel. Many physicians treat patients who choose not to have blood transfusions. Whatever you decide must be made known clearly and formally in advance by speaking with your doctor or surgeon.
Prior to surgery, speak with Blood Management Services experts at Bridgeport Hospital who can explain the numerous options available. Bridgeport Hospital is the only hospital in Fairfield County, and one of only two hospitals in the state, with formal Blood Management Services that cover surgical and medical care. For information, please call 203-384-3848 or 1-866-NO-BLOOD.