Exploring the Role of Polycythemia in Patients With Cyanosis After Palliative Congenital Heart Surgery*

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To understand the relationship between polycythemia and clinical outcome in patients with hypoplastic left heart syndrome following the Norwood operation.


A retrospective, single-center cohort study.


Pediatric cardiovascular ICU, university-affiliated children’s hospital.


Infants with hypoplastic left heart syndrome admitted to our medical center from September 2009 to December 2012 undergoing stage 1/Norwood operation.



Measurements and Main Results:

Baseline demographic and clinical information including first recorded postoperative hematocrit and subsequent mean, median, and nadir hematocrits during the first 72 hours postoperatively were recorded. The primary outcomes were in-hospital mortality and length of hospitalization. Thirty-two patients were included in the analysis. Patients did not differ by operative factors (cardiopulmonary bypass time and cross-clamp time) or traditional markers of severity of illness (vasoactive inotrope score, lactate, saturation, and PaO2/FIO2 ratio). Early polycythemia (hematocrit value > 49%) was associated with longer cardiovascular ICU stay (51.0 [± 38.6] vs 21.4 [± 16.2] d; p < 0.01) and total hospital length of stay (65.0 [± 46.5] vs 36.1 [± 20.0] d; p = 0.03). In a multivariable analysis, polycythemia remained independently associated with the length of hospitalization after controlling for the amount of RBC transfusion (weight, 4.36 [95% CI, 1.35–7.37]; p < 0.01). No difference in in-hospital mortality rates was detected between the two groups (17.6% vs 20%).


Early polycythemia following the Norwood operation is associated with longer length of hospitalization even after controlling for blood cell transfusion practices. We hypothesize that polycythemia may be caused by hemoconcentration and used as an early marker of capillary leak syndrome.

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