Context: Anemia is common in the critically ill and results in a large number of red blood cell transfusions. Recent data have shown that red blood cell transfusions in critically ill patients can be decreased with recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) therapy during their intensive care unit stay.
Objective: To assess the efficacy of rHuEPO therapy in decreasing the occurrence of red blood cell transfusions in patients admitted to a long-term acute care facility (LTAC).
Design: A prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multiple-center trial.
Setting: Two long-term acute care facilities.
Patients: A total of 86 patients who met eligibility criteria were enrolled in the study with 42 randomized to rHuEPO and 44 to placebo.
Interventions: Study drug (rHuEPO 40,000 units) or a placebo was administered by subcutaneous injection before day 7 of long-term acute care facility admission and continued weekly for up to 12 doses.
Main outcome measures: The primary efficacy end point was cumulative red blood cell units transfused. Secondary efficacy end points were the percent of patients receiving any red blood cell transfusion; the percent of patients alive and transfusion independent; cumulative mortality; and change in hematologic variables from baseline. Logistic regression was used to adjust the odds ratio for red blood cell transfusion. All end points were assessed at both study day 42 and study day 84.
Results: The baseline hemoglobin level was higher in the rHuEPO group (9.9 +/- 1.15 g/dL vs. 9.3 +/- 1.41 g/dL, p = .02) as was the pretransfusion hemoglobin level (8.0 +/- 0.5 g/dL vs. 7.5 +/- 0.8 g/dL, p = .04). At day 84, patients receiving rHuEPO received fewer red blood cell transfusions (median units per patient 0 vs. 2, p = .05), and the ratio of red blood cell transfusion rates per day alive was 0.61 with 95% confidence interval of 0.2, 1.01, indicating a 39% relative reduction in transfusion burden for the rHuEPO group compared with placebo. There was also a trend at day 84 toward a reduction in the total units of red blood cells transfused in the rHuEPO group (113 units of placebo vs. 73 units of rHuEPO). Patients receiving rHuEPO were also less likely to be transfused (64% placebo vs. 41% rHuEPO, p = .05; adjusted odds ratio 0.47, 95% confidence interval 0.19, 1.16). Most of the transfusion benefit of rHuEPO occurred by study day 42. Increase in hemoglobin from baseline to final was greater in the rHuEPO group (1.0 +/- 2 g/dL vs. 0.4 +/- 1.7 g/dL, p < .001). Mortality rate (19% rHuEPO, 29.5% placebo, p = .17; relative risk, 0.55, 95% confidence interval 0.21-1.43) and serious adverse clinical events (38 % rHuEPO, 32% placebo, p = .65) were not significantly different between the two groups.
Conclusions: In patients admitted to a long-term acute care facility, administration of weekly rHuEPO results in a significant reduction in exposure to allogeneic red blood cell transfusion during the initial 42 days of rHuEPO therapy, with little additional benefit achieved with therapy to 84 days. Despite receiving fewer red blood cell transfusions, patients treated with rHuEPO achieve a higher hemoglobin level.