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What are the different components of blood and what do they do?

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Red cells give blood its colour and account for 40-50% of its volume.  

  • Their main function is to carry oxygen from the lungs to all the cells of the body and remove waste products such as carbon dioxide.
  • Transfusions are used to treat people with severe anaemia, those whose red blood cells do not function adequately and people experiencing severe bleeding such as accident victims and patients undergoing surgery.
  • Red cells are stored in a refrigerator and have a shelf life of up to 42 days.

Platelets are components of blood that assist in the blood clotting process.

  • They are literally tiny plates that wedge together covering tears in the blood vessels and preventing blood from leaking into surrounding tissue.
  • The primary use of platelets is in the treatment of people with various cancers and other diseases such as leukaemia where the bone marrow is unable to produce adequate numbers of platelets, as well as for people receiving medical treatments like chemotherapy which can decrease a person's platelet count. Platelets are also used to treat people suffering severe blood loss.
  • Platelets are stored at room temperature and have a shelf life of only 5 days. This is why it is vital to have a constant flow of blood donations coming in.

Plasma is the straw coloured fluid in which the red cells, white cells and platelets are suspended.

  • Plasma is the most versatile component of blood as it can be processed into a variety of products and each product can be used to treat a number of potentially life-threatening conditions.
  • Plasma is stored frozen and has a shelf life of up to 12 months

It is possible to give platelet or plasma-only donations every 2 weeks - find out more.