Pharmacological Strategies to Decrease Transfusion Requirements in Patients Undergoing Surgery

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Surgical procedures are inevitably associated with bleeding. The amount of blood loss may vary widely between different surgical procedures and depends on surgical as well as non-surgical factors. Whereas adequate surgical haemostasis may suffice in most patients, pro-haemostatic pharmacological agents may be of additional benefit in patients with (diffuse) surgical bleeding or in patients with a specific underlying haemostatic defect. In general, surgical haemostasis and pharmacological therapies can be complementary in controlling blood loss.The use of pharmacological therapies to reduce blood loss and blood transfusions in surgery has historically been restricted to a few drugs. Antifibrinolytic agents (aprotinin, tranexamic acid and aminocaproic acid) have the best evidence supporting their use, especially in cardiac surgery, liver transplantation and some orthopaedic surgical procedures. Meta-analyses of randomised, controlled trials in cardiac patients have suggested a slight benefit of aprotinin, compared with the other antifibrinolytics. Desmopressin is the treatment of choice in patients with mild haemophilia A and von Willebrand disease. It has also been shown to be effective in patients undergoing cardiac surgery who received aspirin up to the time of operation. However, overall evidence does not support a beneficial effect of desmopressin in patients without pre-existing coagulopathy undergoing elective surgical procedures. Topical agents, such as fibrin sealants have been successfully used in a variety of surgical procedures. However, only very few controlled clinical trials have been performed and scientific evidence supporting their use is still limited.Novel drugs, like recombinant factor VIIa (eptacog alfa), are currently under clinical investigation. Recombinant factor VIIa has been introduced for the treatment of haemophilia patients with inhibitors, either in surgical or non-surgical situations. Preliminary data indicate that it may also be effective in surgical patients without pre-existing coagulation abnormalities. More clinical trials are warranted before definitive conclusions can be drawn about the safety and the exact role of this new drug in surgical patients.Only adequately powered and properly designed randomised, clinical trials will allow us to define the most effective and the safest pharmacological therapies for reducing blood loss and transfusion requirements in surgical patients. Future trials should also consider cost-effectiveness because of considerable differences in the costs of the available pro-haemostatic pharmacological agents.

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