DHTRs are reactions that occurs 3 to 10 days after the transfusion. Usually, the blood appears serologically compatible at initial testing. Delayed reactions are common in patients who have been immunized to a foreign antigen from a previous transfusion or pregnancy, but the antibody titers decrease over time and the antibody is not detectable during pre-transfusion testing.
The transfusion leads to a secondary (anamnestic) response, causing increased antibody production that sensitizes antigen-positive donor red cells. Hemolysis is extravascular. Sensitized cells are removed from circulation by the reticuloendothelial system, also called the monocyte-macrophage system. Because there is a delay in the presentation of symptoms, DHTR is not usually considered as a cause of the clinical presentation. The transfusion service usually initiates investigation of a DHTR because of serologic findings in a post-transfusion specimen.
DHTRs occur more frequently than acute hemolytic reactions. Approximately 1 in 2500 transfusions result in a DHTR.