In a study of 8,500 heart surgery patients over eight years, Bristol based BHF scientists discovered that those who received red blood cell transfusions experienced a 300% increase in complications, such as a heart attack or stroke. "Heart surgeons assume patients with low blood counts after surgery benefit from a 'top up' transfusion" says BHF Medical Director Professor Peter Weissberg. "This study shows the importance of testing such beliefs, since it suggests transfusions may cause more problems than they solve."
Over 50% of heart surgery patients in the UK are given blood, although only about 3% of transfusions are given because of life-threatening bleeding, and it's clear that this could have a significant effect on the health, or even survival, of many patients. There is also a financial impact, as giving transfusions and treating transfusion-related illness increases the overall cost of hospital stays by over 40%.
The Bristol team is planning further research to see if changing transfusion guidelines could improve patient outcomes. In the meantime, surgeons are being urged to think twice before giving their patients transfusions after heart surgery.
For more information about our pioneering research into heart disease, please visit bhf.org.uk/research