Context: Perioperative red blood cell transfusion is commonly used to address anemia, an independent risk factor for morbidity and mortality after cardiac operations; however, evidence regarding optimal blood transfusion practice in patients undergoing cardiac surgery is lacking.
Objective: To define whether a restrictive perioperative red blood cell transfusion strategy is as safe as a liberal strategy in patients undergoing elective cardiac surgery.
Design, setting, and patients: The Transfusion Requirements After Cardiac Surgery (TRACS) study, a prospective, randomized, controlled clinical noninferiority trial conducted between February 2009 and February 2010 in an intensive care unit at a university hospital cardiac surgery referral center in Brazil. Consecutive adult patients (n = 502) who underwent cardiac surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass were eligible; analysis was by intention-to-treat.
Intervention: Patients were randomly assigned to a liberal strategy of blood transfusion (to maintain a hematocrit ≥30%) or to a restrictive strategy (hematocrit ≥24%).
Main outcome measure: Composite end point of 30-day all-cause mortality and severe morbidity (cardiogenic shock, acute respiratory distress syndrome, or acute renal injury requiring dialysis or hemofiltration) occurring during the hospital stay. The noninferiority margin was predefined at -8% (ie, 8% minimal clinically important increase in occurrence of the composite end point).
Results: Hemoglobin concentrations were maintained at a mean of 10.5 g/dL (95% confidence interval [CI], 10.4-10.6) in the liberal-strategy group and 9.1 g/dL (95% CI, 9.0-9.2) in the restrictive-strategy group (P < .001). A total of 198 of 253 patients (78%) in the liberal-strategy group and 118 of 249 (47%) in the restrictive-strategy group received a blood transfusion (P < .001). Occurrence of the primary end point was similar between groups (10% liberal vs 11% restrictive; between-group difference, 1% [95% CI, -6% to 4%]; P = .85). Independent of transfusion strategy, the number of transfused red blood cell units was an independent risk factor for clinical complications or death at 30 days (hazard ratio for each additional unit transfused, 1.2 [95% CI, 1.1-1.4]; P = .002).
Conclusion: Among patients undergoing cardiac surgery, the use of a restrictive perioperative transfusion strategy compared with a more liberal strategy resulted in noninferior rates of the combined outcome of 30-day all-cause mortality and severe morbidity.
Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT01021631.