Transfusion of fresher vs older red blood cells in hospitalized patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Blood. 2016 Jan 28;127(4):400-10. doi: 10.1182/blood-2015-09-670950. Epub 2015 Dec 1.


The impact of transfusing fresher vs older red blood cells (RBCs) on patient-important outcomes remains controversial. Two recently published large trials have provided new evidence. We summarized results of randomized trials evaluating the impact of the age of transfused RBCs. We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, the Cochrane Database for Systematic Reviews, and Cochrane CENTRAL for randomized controlled trials enrolling patients who were transfused fresher vs older RBCs and reported outcomes of death, adverse events, and infection. Independently and in duplicate, reviewers determined eligibility, risk of bias, and abstracted data. We conducted random effects meta-analyses and rated certainty (quality or confidence) of evidence using the GRADE approach. Of 12 trials that enrolled 5229 participants, 6 compared fresher RBCs with older RBCs and 6 compared fresher RBCs with current standard practice. There was little or no impact of fresher vs older RBCs on mortality (relative risk [RR], 1.04; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.94-1.14; P = .45; I(2) = 0%, moderate certainty evidence) or on adverse events (RR, 1.02; 95% CI, 0.91-1.14; P = .74; I(2) = 0%, low certainty evidence). Fresher RBCs appeared to increase the risk of nosocomial infection (RR, 1.09; 95% CI, 1.00-1.18; P = .04; I(2) = 0%, risk difference 4.3%, low certainty evidence). Current evidence provides moderate certainty that use of fresher RBCs does not influence mortality, and low certainty that it does not influence adverse events but could possibly increase infection rates. The existing evidence provides no support for changing practices toward fresher RBC transfusion.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Preservation* / adverse effects
  • Blood Preservation* / methods
  • Cross Infection / etiology
  • Erythrocyte Aging
  • Erythrocyte Transfusion / adverse effects*
  • Erythrocyte Transfusion / methods
  • Erythrocytes / cytology*
  • Humans