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Transfus Med Hemother. 2012 Apr;39(2):98-103. Epub 2012 Mar 19.

Perioperative Red Blood Cell Transfusion: Harmful or Beneficial to the Patient?

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Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine, Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen, Germany.


Although the transfusion of red blood cells (RBCs) is safer than ever regarding infections, it is still associated with several adverse reactions and therefore should only be used on the basis of evidence-based triggers. However, prevention of RBC transfusion and subsequent substitution of blood losses with acellular solutions will inevitably result in dilutional anemia. Acute dilutional anemia can be compensated by the body over a wide range of hemoglobin concentrations without a critical restriction of tissue oxygenation. On the other hand, chronic anemia is known to be a potent cause of morbidity and mortality. As a consequence, the impact of perioperative anemia on mortality is difficult to describe, because anemia, as well as the transfusion of RBCs, can influence the clinical outcome. The resulting 'Gordian knot' cannot be cut easily, and this circumstance forces clinical physicians to make a daily trade-off between transfusion-associated and anemia-associated risks. This review focuses on the physiology of oxygen transport, the hazards of acute anemia, the hazards of RBC transfusion, and the literature putting these problems into perspective.

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