Anemia and blood transfusion practices in the critically ill: a prospective cohort review

Heart Lung. 2010 May-Jun;39(3):217-25. doi: 10.1016/j.hrtlng.2009.07.002. Epub 2009 Sep 12.


Background: Nearly 75% of critically ill patients develop anemia in the intensive care unit (ICU). Anemia can be treated with red blood cell (RBC) transfusions, although evidence suggests that lower hemoglobin levels are tolerated in the critically ill. Despite such recommendations, variation exists in clinical practice.

Methods: A prospective cohort was assessed for anemia and RBC transfusion practices in 100 consecutive adults admitted to our General Systems ICU.

Results: The prevalence of anemia in this cohort was 98%. Mean blood loss via phlebotomy was 25+/-10.3 mL per patient per day. The RBC transfusion rate for the ICU stay was 40%, increasing to 70% in patients whose ICU stay was >7 days. The mean pretransfusion level of hemoglobin was 7.35+/-0.47 mg/dL for the total cohort, and 8.2+/-0.65 mg/dL for those with a history of cardiovascular disease.

Conclusion: Anemia was common in this critically ill cohort, with hemoglobin levels continuing to drop with ICU stay. Pretransfusion hemoglobin levels were lower than reported by others, yet the RBC transfusion rate was comparable. There was no association between anemia and phlebotomy practices in our ICU.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alberta / epidemiology
  • Anemia / epidemiology
  • Anemia / therapy*
  • Comorbidity
  • Critical Illness*
  • Erythrocyte Transfusion*
  • Female
  • Hemoglobins
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / statistics & numerical data*
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phlebotomy / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Young Adult


  • Hemoglobins