Red cell transfusion thresholds for preterm infants: finally some answers

Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2021 Apr 27;fetalneonatal-2020-320495. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2020-320495. Online ahead of print.


Extremely low birthweight infants become anaemic during their care in the neonatal intensive care unit because of the physiological anaemia experienced by all newborn infants compounded by early umbilical cord clamping, blood loss by phlebotomy for laboratory monitoring and delayed erythropoiesis. The majority of these infants receive transfusions of packed red blood cells, usually based on haemoglobin values below a certain threshold. The haemoglobin or haematocrit thresholds used to guide transfusion practices vary with infant status and among institutions and practitioners. Previous smaller studies have not given clear guidance with respect to the haemoglobin thresholds that should trigger transfusions or even if this is the best way to decide when to transfuse an infant. Two large clinical trials of similar design comparing higher and lower haemoglobin thresholds for transfusing extremely low birthweight infants were recently published, the ETTNO and TOP trials. These trials found reassuringly conclusive and concordant results. Within the range of haemoglobin transfusion thresholds studied, there was no difference in the primary outcome (which was the same in both studies), neurodevelopmental impairment at 2 years' corrected age or death before assessment, in either study. In addition, there was no difference in either study in either of the components of the primary outcome. In conclusion, haemoglobin transfusion thresholds within the ranges used in these trials, 11-13 g/dL for young critically ill or ventilated infants and 7-10 g/dL for stable infants not requiring significant respiratory support, can be safely used without expecting adverse consequences on survival or neurodevelopment.

Keywords: neonatology; therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Review