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J Paediatr Child Health. 2013 Oct;49(10):825-32. doi: 10.1111/jpc.12290. Epub 2013 Jul 8.

Neonatal exchange transfusions in the 21st century: a single hospital study.

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Department of Newborn Services, The Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.



In the 21st century, neonatal exchange transfusions (ETs) are uncommon procedures usually performed in tertiary neonatal units. As junior clinical staff now lack familiarity with the procedure, it is important to maintain awareness of its complications in order to manage clinical risks and counsel parents appropriately. The study aims to analyse the ET rate, its indications and its associated complications, in a single tertiary centre in the 21st century.


This is a retrospective cohort study of all infants receiving ET from 1 January 2001 to 31 December 2010 at the Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne.


Sixty-four ETs were performed in 51 infants, an average of 6.4 ETs per year. Forty-nine (96%) infants were exchanged for hyperbilirubinaemia and two (4%) for anaemia. Thirty-six (71%) infants had Rhesus haemolytic disease of the newborn and six (12%) had ABO incompatibility. Six infants were intubated and mechanically ventilated after ET; these infants were significantly more acidotic during the ET than those who were never on respiratory support (mean pH 7.153 and 7.309 respectively, mean difference -0.156, 95% CI -0.196 to -0.116, t = 7.85, P < 0.001). Overall mortality was 8% (n = 4).


Our current ET rate is very low compared with historical data. It is difficult to ascribe mortality and morbidity directly to ET as the procedure is now often performed on smaller, sicker or more premature infants whose risks of mortality and morbidity are high regardless of ET. Prospective multi-centre studies are needed to provide adequate data to analyse complications in greater detail.


exchange transfusion; hyperbilirubinaemia; mortality; procedural complication; rhesus isoimmunisation

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