Red Blood Cells

Reviewed on 7/29/2022

What Is Red Blood Cells and How Does It Work?

Red blood cells are the blood cells that carry oxygen. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin and it is the hemoglobin which permits them to transport oxygen and carbon dioxide. Hemoglobin, aside from being a transport molecule, is a pigment. It gives the cells their red color and their name.

The abbreviation for red blood cells is RBCs. Red blood cells are sometime simply called red cells. They are also called erythrocytes or, rarely today, red blood corpuscles.

Red blood cells is available under the following different brand names: RBCs.

What Are Side Effects Associated with Using Red Blood Cells?

Side effects of red_blood_cells include:

  • hemolytic transfusion reactions
  • febrile non-hemolytic reactions
  • allergic reactions ranging from hives to severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)
  • septic reactions
  • transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI)
  • circulatory overload
  • transfusion-associated graft versus host disease
  • post-transfusion skin discoloration

Seek medical care or call 911 at once if you have the following serious side effects:

  • Severe headache, confusion, slurred speech, arm or leg weakness, trouble walking, loss of coordination, feeling unsteady, very stiff muscles, high fever, profuse sweating, or tremors;
  • Serious eye symptoms such as sudden vision loss, blurred vision, tunnel vision, eye pain or swelling, or seeing halos around lights;
  • Serious heart symptoms include fast, irregular, or pounding heartbeats; fluttering in the chest; shortness of breath; sudden dizziness, lightheartedness, or passing out.

This document does not contain all possible side effects and others may occur. Check with your physician for additional information about side effects.

Dosages of Red Blood Cells

Dosage Considerations – Should be Given as Follows:


  • Insufficient Tissue Oxygen Delivery Due to Active Bleeding / Symptomatic Anemia
  • 1 unit increase hemoglobin 1 g/dl in average sized adults without active bleeding or hemolysis; usually given over 1-2 hours but not longer than 4 hours
  • Rarely necessary to transfuse to hemoglobin over 10 g/dl
  • Activity bleeding patients dosing and rate of administration varies depending on rate of bleeding and must be evaluate on a case by case basis


  • 10-15 ml/kg increased hemoglobin 2-3 g/dl in patients without active bleeding or hemolysis
  • Actively bleeding patients dosing and rate of administration varies depending on rate of bleeding and must be evaluated on a case by case basis

Adult and Pediatric

  • Other Information
  • Usually blood loss over 20% estimated total blood volume

What Other Drugs Interact with Red Blood Cells?

If your doctor has directed you to use this medication, your doctor or pharmacist may already be aware of any possible drug interactions and may be monitoring you for them. Do not start, stop, or change the dosage of any medicine before checking with your doctor, health care provider, or pharmacist first.

  • Red Blood Cells have no known severe interactions with other drugs.
  • Red Blood Cells have no known serious interactions with other drugs.
  • Red Blood Cells have no known moderate interactions with other drugs.
  • Red Blood Cells have no known mild interactions with other drugs.

This information does not contain all possible interactions or adverse effects. Therefore, before using this product, tell your doctor or pharmacist about all the products you use. Keep a list of all your medications with you, and share this information with your doctor and pharmacist. Check with your health care professional or doctor for additional medical advice, or if you have health questions, concerns, or for more information about this medicine.

What Are Warnings and Precautions for Red Blood Cells?


This medication contains red blood cells (RBCs). Do not take RBCs if you are allergic to red blood cells or any ingredients contained in this drug.

Keep out of reach of children. In case of an overdose, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center immediately.


  • Should not be used to treat anemia that can be corrected with a non-transfusion therapy (iron therapy) unless an immediate correction is urgently needed
  • Not indicated solely to provide blood volume and/or oncotic pressure, a sense of well-being, or to improve wound healing

Effects of Drug Abuse

  • No information available

Short-Term Effects

  • See "What Are Side Effects Associated with Using Red Blood Cells?"

Long-Term Effects

  • See "What Are Side Effects Associated with Using Red Blood Cells?"


  • If a transfusion reaction is suspected, the transfusion should be stopped, the patient assessed and stabilized, the blood bank notified, and a transfusion reaction investigation initiated. Massive or rapid transfusion may lead to the irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias), body temperature below 95 F (hypothermia), high blood levels of potassium, low blood levels of calcium, difficulty breathing, and/or heart failure
  • All transfusions must be given via blood administration sets containing 170- to 260-micron filters or 20- to 40-micron microaggregate filters. No other medications or fluids other than normal saline should be simultaneously given through the same line without prior consultation with the medical director of the blood bank
  • Patients should be monitored for signs of a transfusion reaction including vitals pre, during, and post-transfusion
  • Non-septic infectious risks include transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (approximately 1:2 mill), Hepatitis C Virus (approximately 1:1.5 mill), Hepatitis B Virus (1:300k), Human T-Lymphotropic Virus, West Nile Virus,
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV), parvovirus B19, Lyme disease, babesiosis, malaria, Chaga's disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease
  • Iron overload in chronically transfused patients due to abnormal structure of a globin chain (hemoglobinopathies) or blood disorder (thalassemia)
  • Consult with the blood bank medical director or hematologist if you have questions regarding special transfusion requirements

Pregnancy and Lactation

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)-negative or CMV reduced risk (leukocyte reduced) red blood cells (RBCs) should be used in pregnant women who are CMV-negative or whose cytomegalovirus status is unknown


  • Consult with your physician regarding breastfeeding
Medscape. Red Blood Cells.
RxList. Medical Definition of Red Blood Cells.

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