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Risk from blood cell transfusion

27th November 2007

A study by the Bristol Heart Institute has suggested that transfusion of red blood cells which are used in heart surgery may heighten the danger of heart attacks or stroke.

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The research, published in the journal Circulation, looked at information gathered over eight years from 8,500 patients who had cardiac surgery.

Red blood cell transfusions are used in surgery in order to provide better delivery of oxygen to tissue. However, the study found that those patients who had been given a transfusion had three times the number of complications associated with a lack of oxygen.

The researchers discovered that the dangers linked with transfusion happened without regard to the patients' level of haemoglobin.

Lead researcher Dr Gavin Murphy stated that the findings showed that the red blood cells had probably changed while they were stored and that it had had an effect on their capacity to carry oxygen.

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said that heart surgeons had thought that patients with low red blood cell counts following surgery would need a "top-up transfusion of donated red blood cells".

He said: "This study shows the importance of putting such widespread beliefs to the test since it suggests that such transfusions may cause more problems than they solve."

In the UK over 50% of all heart surgery patients received blood transfusion, but only 3% were given transfusions "because of life-threatening bleeding".




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