Red cell transfusion guidelines

The AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks has issued guidelines on red blood cell transfusion1, providing some number-based targets which may be helpful for some practitioners or organisations. Editorialist and heavyweight intensivist Jean-Louis Vincent argues for a more individual patient-based assessment2, and highlights some of the weaknesses of existing studies, in particular the often quoted but now fairly old TRICC study3 which suffered from poor recruitment and the possible lack of applicability to modern practice now that leucodepleted products are used.

Prof Vincent states:

Transfusion decisions need to consider individual patient characteristics, including age and the presence of CAD, to estimate a specific patient’s likelihood of benefit from transfusion. The decision to transfuse is too complex and important to be guided by a single number.



Description: Although approximately 85 million units of red blood cells (RBCs) are transfused annually worldwide, transfusion practices vary widely. The AABB (formerly, the American Association of Blood Banks) developed this guideline to provide clinical recommendations about hemoglobin concentration thresholds and other clinical variables that trigger RBC transfusions in hemodynamically stable adults and children.


Methods: These guidelines are based on a systematic review of the literature on randomized clinical trials evaluating transfusion thresholds. We performed a literature search from 1950 to February 2011 with no language restrictions. We examined the proportion of patients who received any RBC transfusion and the number of RBC units transfused to describe the effect of restrictive transfusion strategies on RBC use. To determine the clinical consequences of restrictive transfusion strategies, we examined overall mortality, nonfatal myocardial infarction, cardiac events, pulmonary edema, stroke, thromboembolism, renal failure, infection, hemorrhage, mental confusion, functional recovery, and length of hospital stay.


Recommendation 1: The AABB recommends adhering to a restrictive transfusion strategy (7 to 8 g/dL) in hospitalized, stable patients (Grade: strong recommendation; high-quality evidence).


Recommendation 2: The AABB suggests adhering to a restrictive strategy in hospitalized patients with preexisting cardiovascular disease and considering transfusion for patients with symptoms or a hemoglobin level of 8 g/dL or less (Grade: weak recommendation; moderate-quality evidence).


Recommendation 3: The AABB cannot recommend for or against a liberal or restrictive transfusion threshold for hospitalized, hemodynamically stable patients with the acute coronary syndrome (Grade: uncertain recommendation; very low-quality evidence).


Recommendation 4: The AABB suggests that transfusion decisions be influenced by symptoms as well as hemoglobin concentration (Grade: weak recommendation; low-quality evidence).


1. Red Blood Cell Transfusion: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the AABB
Ann Intern Med. 2012 Mar 26. [Epub ahead of print] Full Text

2. Indications for Blood Transfusions: Too Complex to Base on a Single Number?
Ann Intern Med. 2012 Mar 26. [Epub ahead of print] Full Text

3. A Multicenter, Randomized, Controlled Clinical Trial of Transfusion Requirements in Critical Care
N Engl J Med 1999; 340:409-417 Full Text