When Blood Transfusions Could Be Deadly


When Blood Transfusions Could Be Deadly: Study warns 6-week-old donor blood ‘contains dangerous levels of iron’ – so why do we use it?

  • Blood for transfusions that is six weeks old could be dangerous to patients
  • The longer it waits in storage, the more iron it can release into the bloodstream
  • Excess iron can lead to blood clots or serious complications in ill patients
  • Experts suggest lowering the FDA storage time from six weeks to five weeks 

The oldest blood available for transfusions could be releasing harmful amounts of iron into patients’ bloodstreams, a new study has found.

The maximum amount of time red blood cells can be stored to use for transfusion is six weeks.

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But new research shows the longer it waits in storage, the more dangerous it can become, drastically increasing patients’ risk of blood clots.

Experts warn the findings show we could save thousands from harm by changing the FDA’s maximum storage limit from six weeks to five weeks.

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However, with a woeful lack of blood donations to meet demand, this slight alteration could deprive thousands of life-saving treatment.

Blood Transfusions Could Be Deadly
Patients receiving 6-week-old donor blood could have dangerous amounts of iron being injected into their blood stream, a new study found (stock image)

The transfusion of red blood cells is the most common procedure performed in hospitalized patients.

Approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the US, according to the American Red Cross. Roughly 4.5 million Americans receive blood transfusions each year.

Co-lead author Dr Eldad Hod, associate professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University Medical Center, told Daily Mail Online: ‘Red cells age and the more they age and are stored, the more they get damaged.’

The longer red blood cells age, the more iron is released.

We all know iron is a key nutrient to help carry oxygen from the lungs to other organs.

However, like any nutrient, too much iron can lead to health complications such as blood clots.

Dr Hod added: ‘Based on the amount of iron circulating in the blood of the volunteers who received six-week-old blood, we’d predict that certain existing infections could be exacerbated.’


Blood is stored in refrigerators between 35-42 degrees Fahrenheit.

Blood can be stored for up to 42 days.

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.

Whole blood and red blood cell units collected in the U.S. in a year: 13.6 million.

The average red blood cell transfusion is approximately 3 pints.

36,000 units of red blood are needed every day

60 percent of the US population can donate blood but only five percent do annually.

The number of blood donors in the U.S. in a year: 6.8 million.

You CAN donate if:

  • You are in good general health
  • You are 17 years old
  • You weigh at least 110 lbs
Blood Storage
The longer that blood is stored, the more cells are damaged and higher iron production occurs. Researchers recommend the FDA lower maximum storage time from six weeks to five weeks (stock image)

Dr Hod said there are some solutions to the problem so that can people don’t have to receive ‘old’ blood.

He said: ‘Packed cells are stored in a solution so perhaps if a new solution is developed, the blood can be stored better.

‘There is also donor variability. Somebody’s blood might be able to be stored for 42 days, and someone else’s for less. If we can figure out in general what genetic or environmental factors are at play, we could figure out better storage solutions.’

However, until those solutions come, researchers say the ‘prudent’ decision is for the FDA to reduce the maximum storage period.

Dr Spitalnik said: ‘The UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the National Institutes of Health have limited storage to 35 days, and we think that can be achieved throughout the US without seriously affecting the blood supply.’



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