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The purpose of this study was to assess the change of platelet and fibrinogen concentrations and the change of activities of prothrombin and factors V and VII when major surgical blood loss was replaced with plasma-poor red cell concentrates (RCCs) and colloid plasma substitutes. Sixty patients were studied. The average blood loss was 65% +/- 41% of the calculated blood volume (CBV). Blood loss was monitored carefully and replaced without delay to ensure stable blood volume. Blood samples were obtained at the induction of anesthesia and at the end of the recovery room period, or before the patient was given fresh frozen plasma. In addition, a platelet count was determined after each 20% blood loss. The results were converted to relative values, and simple linear regression with logarithmic transformation was applied. The initial platelet concentration was 257 +/- 89 x 10(3)/mm3 and the extrapolation of the regression line intercepted the critical level of 50 x 10(3)/mm3 at 230% (confidence interval 169%-294%) blood loss. The initial fibrinogen concentration was 3.7 +/- 1.1 g/L and the hemostatically significant level of 1.0 g/L was already reached at 142% (117%-169%) blood loss (r2 = 0.90). Activities of prothrombin and coagulation factors V and VII reached their critical levels at 201% (160%-244%), 229% (167%-300%), and 236% (198%-277%) blood loss, respectively. We conclude that deficiency of fibrinogen develops earlier than any other hemostatic abnormality when plasma-poor RCCs are used for the replacement of major blood loss.