TUESDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Patients having heart surgery who receive fewer blood transfusions do just as well as those who receive more, new research finds, and yet the rate of blood transfusions varies widely among U.S. hospitals.
The studies are published in the Oct. 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In the first study, researchers in Brazil divided 502 cardiac surgery patients into two groups: one received blood transfusions when the hemoglobin concentrations in their blood fell to 30 percent. The other group received blood transfusions when their hemoglobin levels dropped to 24 percent.
Patients who received transfusions at the lower hemoglobin concentration fared just as well in the 30 days after surgery as those who received transfusions at the higher hemoglobin level.
Only 47 percent of patients whose surgeons waited until their blood hemoglobin levels had fallen to 24 percent were given transfusions compared to 78 percent of those in the 30 percent hemoglobin concentration group.
Why should this matter to patients?
Hemoglobin concentration is the percentage of the blood made up of red blood cells. A normal hemoglobin level is about 42 percent, explained Dr. Timothy Gardner, an American Heart Association spokesman and a cardiac surgeon at Christiana Care Health System in Wilmington, Del. Gardner was not involved in the research.
Hemoglobin levels that drop too far can cause severe anemia, which causes the blood to lose too much of its oxygen-carrying capacity and raises the risk of death and other complications.
Yet blood transfusion itself carries risks, Gardner said. Prior research has found an association between transfusions and greater risk of death and problems including renal failure and infection.
"What this study shows is that in patients that don't have a lot of other probl
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