Background: To determine whether a restrictive strategy of red-cell transfusion and a liberal strategy produced equivalent results in critically ill patients, we compared the rates of death from all causes at 30 days and the severity of organ dysfunction.
Methods: We enrolled 838 critically ill patients with euvolemia after initial treatment who had hemoglobin concentrations of less than 9.0 g per deciliter within 72 hours after admission to the intensive care unit and randomly assigned 418 patients to a restrictive strategy of transfusion, in which red cells were transfused if the hemoglobin concentration dropped below 7.0 g per deciliter and hemoglobin concentrations were maintained at 7.0 to 9.0 g per deciliter, and 420 patients to a liberal strategy, in which transfusions were given when the hemoglobin concentration fell below 10.0 g per deciliter and hemoglobin concentrations were maintained at 10.0 to 12.0 g per deciliter.
Results: Overall, 30-day mortality was similar in the two groups (18.7 percent vs. 23.3 percent, P= 0.11). However, the rates were significantly lower with the restrictive transfusion strategy among patients who were less acutely ill -- those with an Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II score of < or =20 (8.7 percent in the restrictive-strategy group and 16.1 percent in the liberal-strategy group; P=0.03) -- and among patients who were less than 55 years of age (5.7 percent and 13.0 percent, respectively; P=0.02), but not among patients with clinically significant cardiac disease (20.5 percent and 22.9 percent, respectively; P=0.69). The mortality rate during hospitalization was significantly lower in the restrictive-strategy group (22.3 percent vs. 28.1 percent, P=0.05).
Conclusions: A restrictive strategy of red-cell transfusion is at least as effective as and possibly superior to a liberal transfusion strategy in critically ill patients, with the possible exception of patients with acute myocardial infarction and unstable angina.