Transfusions harm some heart patients

From Atlanta, at a meeting of the American Society of Hematology

Some patients who undergo coronary bypass surgery receive unnecessary blood transfusions as part of their follow-up care, a team of researchers contends.

As well as wasting a limited biological resource, the practice can also harm patients, says hematologist Jack Levin of the University of California, San Francisco.

Patients sometimes need transfusions of red blood cells to replenish those lost during coronary artery–bypass surgery, Levin says. However, he and his colleagues studied 940 patients whose operations had been free of major bleeding and who appeared to be at low-to-moderate risk of subsequent complications. Nevertheless, 190 of the patients had received blood transfusions.

Transfused patients had nearly twice as great risk of heart attack and four times as great risk of kidney failure as nontransfused patients did, the researchers found. Postoperative infections were also more common in the transfused group.

Among all patients in the study, transfusions appeared to add 2.5 days to the average hospital stay, which was 11.9 days among nontransfused patients, Levin reports.

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