Patients whose own red blood cells are recycled and given back to them during heart surgery have healthier blood cells better able to carry oxygen where it is most needed compared to those who get transfusions of blood stored in a blood bank, according to results of a small study at Johns Hopkins.
In a report for the June issue of the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, the researchers say they found that the more units of banked blood a patient received, the more red cell damage they observed. The damage renders the cells less flexible and less able to squeeze through a body’s smallest capillaries and deliver oxygen to tissues.
Among patients who received five or more units of red blood cells from a hospital blood bank during the study, the damage persisted for at least three days after surgery. In the past, studies have linked transfusions to increased risk of hospital-acquired infections, longer hospital stays and increased risk of death.
“We now have more evidence that fresh blood cells are of a higher quality than what comes from a blood bank,” says study leader Steven Frank, M.D., an associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “If banked blood, which is stored for up to six weeks, is now shown to be of a lower quality, it makes more sense to use recycled blood that has only been outside the body for one or two hours. It’s always been the case that patients feel better about getting their own blood, and recycling is also more cost effective.”