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Gov. Advisory Committee Finds Unnecessary Blood Transfusions are Exposing Patients to Risks

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June 28, 2011

Doctors in U.S. hospitals are exposing patients to dangers from blood transfusions unnecessarily, says a government advisory commission.

The Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability told the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that excessive and inappropriate use of blood transfusions is common in the United States and that the country needs national standards in order to conserve blood supplies.

“Better patient care is what’s being advocated here,” said Dr. Richard Benjamin, chief medical officer of the American Red Cross. “If a transfusion is not necessary, all you can do is harm.”

The American Red Cross supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood supply.

Between 1994 and 2008, blood use increased 40%. Dr. Benjamin believes that while population rose 1% each year, the greatest contributing factor is excessive use. The U.S. uses a disproportionately large amount of blood compared to countries such as Canada and Australia.

The amount of blood used in transfusions varies widely between hospitals and even regionally. Older persons in the South were more than three times more likely to get a blood transfusion than those in the West.

Patients should also be aware that there are ways before surgery to reduce the need for a blood transfusion after surgery.

A shortage of available blood, especially Type O Negative blood can affect for those that need it for life-saving surgeries.

In addition to threatening the blood supply, it is important to recognize that unnecessary blood transfusions subject the patient to unnecessary risks, including:

  • Allergic reaction, even if the blood given is the correct type
  • Contracting viruses and infectious diseases
  • Fever in response to the donor blood’s white blood cells
  • Too much iron that may damage the body, including the liver or heart
  • Lung damage that may be fatal
  • Delayed or acute immune hemolytic reaction if the hospital administers the wrong type of blood, potentially damaging the kidneys
  • A fatal disease called Graft-versus-host disease in which white cells of the donor blood attack the patient’s tissues.

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  1. Nick says:
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    “The current literature pertaining to associated morbidity and mortality with homologous blood transfusion in the surgical patient seems to be pointing only in one direction, which is we must start reducing our patients exposure to homologous blood and products. There appears to be ever mounting evidence of increases in infraction, stroke, transfusion related lung injury, infection, and death that authors are associating with transfusion…”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21449243