Blood products can be used to replace blood or particular components of the blood that have been lost by injury or illness. All blood products are obtained from blood collected from volunteer blood donors. Blood may be processed into the various blood components listed below.
Packed Red Blood Cells (PRBC)
Red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues. Packed red blood cells have had most of the plasma removed from the whole blood. Packed cells are usually given into a vein over 2-4 hours. The most common reasons for PRBC transfusion in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit are: 1) anemia due to prematurity and 2) to replace red blood cells lost during surgery or a procedure.
Whole blood contains red blood cells and plasma. It is sometimes used for exchange transfusions (complete replacement of a baby's blood) in newborns with elevated bilirubin levels. This product is otherwise not commonly used.
Platelets are cell fragments that prevent or stop bleeding or bruising by physically plugging holes in blood vessels. Platelet transfusions may be needed if an infant's platelet count is too low. Platelets are given into a vein.
Fresh Frozen Plasma
Fresh frozen plasma is plasma that was frozen and stored shortly after it was obtained from the blood donor. Fresh frozen plasma contains many clotting factors and is often used alone or with cryoprecipitate to replace the low levels of clotting factors. It is given into a vein.
Cryoprecipitate is the part of the blood that contains only certain clotting factors such as factor VIII (deficient in hemophilia A), von Willebrand factor, and fibrinogen. Cryoprecipitate along with fresh frozen plasma (see above) may be given to help replace the clotting factors that are low. Cryoprecipitate is given into a vein.
Other blood products are rarely if ever used in the NICU. If this does occur, your baby's physician will discuss it with you.