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Transfusion. 2002 Jul;42(7):812-8.

Mortality and morbidity in patients with very low postoperative Hb levels who decline blood transfusion.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, USA. carson@umdnj.edu



Guidelines for allogeneic transfusion emphasize minimizing use to avoid transmission of serious illness. However, there is little information on the risks associated from withholding transfusion.


A retrospective cohort study of patients who declined RBC transfusions for religious reasons was performed. This analysis was restricted to consecutive patients > or = 18 years old, who underwent surgery in the operating room from 1981 to 1994 and had a postoperative Hb count of 8 g per dL or less. The primary outcome was defined as any inhospital death occurring within 30 days of the surgery. Secondary outcome was 30-day mortality or in-hospital 30-day morbidity. Morbidity was defined as myocardial infarction, arrhythmia, congestive heart failure, or infection.


Of 2083 eligible patients, 300 had postoperative Hb counts of 8 g per dL or less. The study population was predominantly female (70.3%) with a mean age of 57 years (SD, +/- 17.7). In patients with a postoperative Hb level of 7.1 to 8.0, 0 died (upper 95% CI, 3.7%), and 9.4 percent (95% CI, 4.4-17.0%) had a morbid event. In patients with a postoperative Hb level of 4.1 to 5.0, 34.4 percent (95% CI, 18.6-53.2%) died and 57.7 percent (95% CI, 36.9-76.6%) had a morbid event or died. After adjusting for age, cardiovascular disease, and Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II score, the odds of death in patients with a postoperative Hb level of < or = 8 g per dL increased 2.5 times (95% CI, 1.9-3.2) for each gram decrease in Hb level.


The risk of death was low in patients with postoperative Hb levels of 7.1 to 8.0 g per dL, although morbidity occurred in 9.4 percent. As postoperative blood counts fall the risk of mortality and/or morbidity rises and becomes extremely high below 5 to 6 g per dL.

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