Transfusion practices in traumatic brain injury

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Abstract

Purpose of review

The aim of this review is to summarize the recent studies looking at the effects of anemia and red blood cell transfusion in critically-ill patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI), describe the transfusion practice variations observed worldwide, and outline the ongoing trials evaluating restrictive versus liberal transfusion strategies for TBI.

Recent findings

Anemia is common among critically-ill patients with TBI, it is also thought to exacerbate secondary brain injury, and is associated with an increased risk of poor outcome. Conversely, allogenic red blood cell transfusion carries its own risks and complications, and has been associated with worse outcomes. Globally, there are large reported differences in the hemoglobin threshold used for transfusion after TBI. Observational studies have shown differential results for improvements in cerebral oxygenation and metabolism after red blood cell transfusion in TBI.

Summary

Currently, there is insufficient evidence to make strong recommendations regarding which hemoglobin threshold to use as a transfusion trigger in critically-ill patients with TBI. There is also uncertainty whether the restrictive transfusion strategy used in general critical care can be extrapolated to acutely brain injured patients. Ultimately, the consequences of anemia-induced cerebral injury need to be weighed up against the risks and complications associated with red blood cell transfusion.

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