Are Blood Transfusions Safe? Study Links Blood Transfusions to Surgery Complications in Women

Blood Transfusions Are Linked to Surgical Complications for Women

By Patty Oh

Many people think that blood transfusions are safe. They are - but they do carry risks. In a recent study, researchers announced that more women die after heart surgery than men. The cause? Infections - caused by blood transfusions.

In a recent press release, researchers from the University of Michigan Health System and the University of Rochester Medical Center collaborated on this research and detailed their findings.

On the whole, women receive more blood transfusions than men undergoing similar surgeries. It's simple math - the more blood transfusions that are done, the greater the risk for complications.
Researchers estimate than nearly half, 41 percent, to three quarters, 71 percent, of Americans have a blood transfusion at some point in their life.

Whether or not a blood transfusion can cause an infection is a matter for debate, with differing opinions on both sides.

While blood transfusions have been made as safe as scientifically possible, receiving someone else's blood always carries risks. When a blood transfusion is necessary, researchers recommend that patients only use blood that has had the white cells removed.

The name of the process for removing the white cells is called leukoreduction. By utilizing leukoreduction, scientists believe that the chances of developing an infection from a blood transferred are lowered.

Researchers have raised the question, do all of these surgeries necessitate blood transfusions? Or, is it possible that people are being given blood transfusions needlessly?

"For 100 years we've assumed blood transfusions are good for people, but most of these clinical practices grew before we had the research to support it," said Neil Blumberg, M.D., professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and director of Transfusion Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Blumberg was a co-author of this research study.

In years past, blood transfusions were not routine for any surgery. Only those people who were gravely ill were even considered candidates for a blood transfusion. However, many surgeons have changed their philosophy about blood transfusions.

Some surgeons now offer blood transfusions on an elective basis. Some of the reasons for considering having a blood transfusion when a patient is not gravely ill include avoiding anemia, and to increase oxygen delivery in the body. However, these benefits must be weighed against the risks that are presented when faced with blood transfusions.

Researchers were unable to determine why more women received blood transfusions than males undergoing the same surgery.

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