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N Engl J Med. 1999 Feb 11;340(6):409-17.

A multicenter, randomized, controlled clinical trial of transfusion requirements in critical care. Transfusion Requirements in Critical Care Investigators, Canadian Critical Care Trials Group.

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  • 1Critical Care Program, University of Ottawa, ON, Canada.

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  • N Engl J Med 1999 Apr 1;340(13):1056.



To determine whether a restrictive strategy of red-cell transfusion and a liberal strategy produced equivalent results in critically ill patients, we compared the rates of death from all causes at 30 days and the severity of organ dysfunction.


We enrolled 838 critically ill patients with euvolemia after initial treatment who had hemoglobin concentrations of less than 9.0 g per deciliter within 72 hours after admission to the intensive care unit and randomly assigned 418 patients to a restrictive strategy of transfusion, in which red cells were transfused if the hemoglobin concentration dropped below 7.0 g per deciliter and hemoglobin concentrations were maintained at 7.0 to 9.0 g per deciliter, and 420 patients to a liberal strategy, in which transfusions were given when the hemoglobin concentration fell below 10.0 g per deciliter and hemoglobin concentrations were maintained at 10.0 to 12.0 g per deciliter.


Overall, 30-day mortality was similar in the two groups (18.7 percent vs. 23.3 percent, P= 0.11). However, the rates were significantly lower with the restrictive transfusion strategy among patients who were less acutely ill -- those with an Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II score of < or =20 (8.7 percent in the restrictive-strategy group and 16.1 percent in the liberal-strategy group; P=0.03) -- and among patients who were less than 55 years of age (5.7 percent and 13.0 percent, respectively; P=0.02), but not among patients with clinically significant cardiac disease (20.5 percent and 22.9 percent, respectively; P=0.69). The mortality rate during hospitalization was significantly lower in the restrictive-strategy group (22.3 percent vs. 28.1 percent, P=0.05).


A restrictive strategy of red-cell transfusion is at least as effective as and possibly superior to a liberal transfusion strategy in critically ill patients, with the possible exception of patients with acute myocardial infarction and unstable angina.

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