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Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2008 Mar 15;65(6):540-6. doi: 10.2146/ajhp070225.

Erythropoietic agents for anemia of critical illness.

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Center for Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy, Allegheny General Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.



Evidence regarding the cost-effective use of and benefits associated with epoetin alfa in treating anemia of critically ill patients is assessed.


Anemia of critical illness is a leading cause of inadequate oxygen delivery that affects almost all patients in the intensive care unit setting after day 3. Red blood cell transfusions are commonly used to correct anemia of critical illness, but they are also associated with risks including hemolytic reactions and viral transmission. The latest evidence suggests that when a strict transfusion protocol is implemented, epoetin alfa does not decrease the transfusion requirements of critically ill patients. In the absence of a strict transfusion protocol, an average of 5.1 doses of epoetin, at a cost of $2154, is required to avoid one transfusion. Evidence is accumulating that epoetin may reduce mortality rates in trauma patients. However, important questions remain regarding the magnitude and mechanism of the potential benefit and if the benefit outweighs the risk of thromboembolism. Therefore, the reduction in transfusion-related adverse events is the only clinical outcome benefit that is well-supported by current evidence. However, the known risk of transfusion-related adverse events is low; approximately 29,000 patients would need to be treated to avoid a serious transfusion-related event. Treating these patients would cost over $25 million, and it would take over 100 years to prevent one serious event in a unit admitting 20 epoetin-eligible patients per month.


Published data suggest a prohibitive cost associated with epoetin alfa use in critically ill patients given that the only well-supported clinical benefit of this treatment is the avoidance of transfusion-related adverse events. Continued research is necessary to clarify if there is a net clinical benefit of epoetin use (especially in trauma patients) and to develop optimal blood management strategies.

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