The first medical center in the nation to develop a blood bank is now working to find ways to conserve blood. In an ironic twist, Mayo Clinic researchers have discovered that blood transfusions are best used sparingly.
“Although blood transfusions can save lives, they can cause complications like lung injury, bacterial infections, and even death if the incorrect blood type is given,” says Gregory Nuttall, M.D., Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist.
Dr. Nuttall is one author of a study that looked at the use of transfusions in intensive care unit patients. After adding a few questions to a computerized blood ordering process that allows transfusions only when medically necessary, they found that patients suffered from fewer transfusion-related complications and had no increases in death or the length of their stay in the intensive care unit. In the three-month study conducted in 2006, the hospital saved 200 units (a unit is about a pint) of blood.
In another study of patients undergoing major spine surgery, Mayo researchers found that patients could withstand greater blood loss and resulting lower red blood cell levels than previously thought without any negative medical consequences. They compared patients from the transfusion-liberal period of 1980 to 1985 with patients from the transfusion-conservative period of 1995 to 2000.
“Although the patients in the more current period were older, sicker, had longer surgeries, and lower red blood cell levels, there was no significant change in morbidity or mortality,” says Thomas Wass, M.D., Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist.
James Stubbs, M.D., chair of the Division of Transfusion Medicine at Mayo, says that although the local blood supply is healthy, national trends point toward a shrinking pool of blood donors as a result of increasingly stringent donor eligibility requirements. Dr. Stubbs says Mayo is in the process of implementing a blood management program with the goal of maximizing the benefits of transfusions to patients. - Marie Zhuikov
Marie Zhuikov is a science writer and Mayo communications consultant who supports the Center for Translational Science Activities.
Editor’s note: Marie tells us 200 units of blood is the equivalent to the blood in the bodies of 20 women, at about 10 pints per person. Men are bloodier, averaging 12 pints each.