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Anesth Analg. 2014 Aug;119(2):242-50. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000000134.

Length of red cell unit storage and risk for delirium after cardiac surgery.

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  • 1From the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, Maryland.



The time that red cell units are stored before transfusion may be associated with postoperative complications, although the evidence is conflicting. However, the association between the length of red cell unit storage and postoperative delirium has not been explored. We hypothesized that the length of storage of transfused red cell units would be associated with delirium after cardiac surgery.


We conducted a case-control study in which patients undergoing coronary artery bypass, valve, or ascending aorta surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass at Johns Hopkins from 2005 to 2011 were eligible for inclusion. Patients were excluded if they did not receive red cell units, received >4 red cell units during hospitalization, received any transfusion after the first postoperative day, or received red cell units that were not exclusively stored for ≤14 days or >14 days. Eighty-seven patients met transfusion-related inclusion criteria and developed postoperative delirium. Controls who did not develop delirium were selected from the same source population of eligible patients and were matched 1:1 based on age (± 5 years), 2- to 2.5-year band of date of surgery, and surgical procedure. For each patient, we calculated the average storage duration of all transfused red cell units. The primary outcome was odds of delirium in patients who were transfused red cell units with exclusive storage duration >14 days compared with that of ≤14 days. Secondary outcomes were odds of delirium with each increasing day of average red cell unit storage duration. We used conditional multivariable regression to test our hypotheses.


In conditional multivariable analysis of 87 case-control pairs, there was no difference in the odds of patients developing delirium if they were transfused red cell units with an exclusive storage age >14 days compared with that ≤14 days (odds ratio [OR] 1.83; 95% confidence interval, 0.73-4.58, P = 0.20). Each additional day of average red cell unit storage beyond 14 days was associated with a 1.01- to 1.13-fold increase in the odds of postoperative delirium (OR, 1.07; P = 0.03). Each additional day of average storage beyond 21 days was associated with a 1.02- to 1.23-fold increase in the odds of postoperative delirium (OR, 1.12; P = 0.02).


Transfusion of red cell units that have been stored for >14 days is not associated with increased odds of delirium. However, each additional day of storage >14 or 21 days may be associated with increased odds of postoperative delirium in patients undergoing cardiac surgery. More research is needed to further characterize the association between delirium and storage duration of transfused red cell units.


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