Transfusion of blood products affects outcome in cardiac surgery

Semin Cardiothorac Vasc Anesth. 2004 Dec;8(4):267-81. doi: 10.1177/108925320400800402.


There remains controversy as to when patients undergoing cardiac surgery should receive a transfusion and whether a low hematocrit and its treatment with a transfusion of red cells influences outcome. The data related to this controversy are reviewed. Although the risk of known viral transmission is currently low, stored red cells do not function normally, and each unit contains activated inflammatory cells and mediators. These changes cause limited oxygen release, impaired microcirculatory flow, and immune suppression. A number of studies have observed decreased survival associated with transfusions in trauma, coronary artery bypass grafting, and intensive care unit patients. Studies that show an adverse outcome associated with low hematocrit are not definitive, because they fail to distinguish between the impact of low hematocrit per se and the possible adverse effects of transfusion, for what the low hematocrit may simply be a surrogate. The observation that a low hematocrit is associated with an adverse outcome does not necessarily prove that "treatment" of the anemia with a red cell transfusion will improve the outcome. Stored platelets contain a highly activated mixture of platelets with storage lesions and inflammatory mediators. Two retrospective post hoc multifactorial analyses suggest that platelet transfusions are associated with substantial increased morbidity and mortality. Clearly, large prospective studies are required to define the proper trigger for blood product transfusion to balance the adverse effects of anemia and platelet deficiency or dysfunction with the adverse effects of transfusion of blood products on morbidity and mortality associated with cardiac surgery and anesthesia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Erythrocyte Transfusion / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Infections / etiology
  • Inflammation / etiology
  • Platelet Transfusion / adverse effects
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Transfusion Reaction*
  • Treatment Outcome