Benefits and risks of red blood cell transfusion in pediatric patients undergoing cardiac surgery

Paediatr Anaesth. 2011 May;21(5):504-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9592.2010.03464.x. Epub 2010 Nov 29.


As the number of neonates and young infants undergoing cardiac surgery requiring cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) increases, red blood cell (RBC) transfusion will continue to be an integral part of the practice of pediatric cardiac anesthesiology. The decision of when to transfuse RBCs to these patients is complex and influenced by multiple factors such as size, presence of cyanotic heart disease, complexity of the surgical procedure, and the hemostatic alterations induced by CPB. The known benefits of RBC transfusion include an increase in the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, improved tissue oxygenation, and improved hemostasis. Unfortunately, there is no minimum hemoglobin level that serves as a transfusion trigger for all pediatric patients undergoing cardiac surgery. Physiologic signs such as tachycardia, hypotension, low mixed venous oxygen saturation and increased oxygen extraction ratios can provide objective evidence of the need to augment a given hemoglobin level. Nevertheless, the benefits of RBC transfusion must be balanced against its risks and, in recent years, RBC transfusion has been subjected to intense scrutiny. The adverse consequences of RBC transfusion include the transmission of infectious diseases and immune-mediated and nonimmune-mediated complications. Advances in donor selection, infectious disease testing of donated blood, use of leukocyte reduction and irradiation of blood in defined situations have improved the safety of the blood supply in terms of infection transmission. However, a growing number of prospective randomized clinical trials are finding an association between RBC transfusion and an increased risk of morbidity and mortality even with the use of leuko-reduced blood. Thus, it is becoming increasingly important that the decision to transfuse RBCs be made with a thorough understanding of the benefit-to-risk ratio. This review addresses the benefits and risks of RBC transfusion, pertinent data acquired in the setting of congenital cardiac surgery and techniques designed to minimize the need for RBC transfusion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antifibrinolytic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Blood Coagulation / physiology
  • Blood Transfusion, Autologous
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Erythrocyte Transfusion / adverse effects
  • Erythrocyte Transfusion / methods*
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / surgery
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Assessment
  • Ultrafiltration


  • Antifibrinolytic Agents
  • Oxygen