Hemoglobin thresholds for transfusion in pediatric patients at a large academic health center

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Although prior studies support the use of a hemoglobin (Hb) transfusion trigger of 7 to 8 g/dL for most hospitalized adults, there are few studies in pediatric populations. We therefore investigated transfusion practices and Hb triggers in hospitalized children.


We performed a historical cohort study comparing transfusion practices in hospitalized children by service within a single academic institution. Blood utilization data from transfused patients (n = 3370) were obtained from electronic records over 4 years. Hb triggers and posttransfusion Hb levels were defined as the lowest and last Hb measured during hospital stay, respectively, in transfused patients. The mean and percentile distribution for Hb triggers were compared to the evidence-based restrictive transfusion threshold of 7 g/dL.


Mean Hb triggers were above the restrictive trigger (7 g/dL) for eight of 12 pediatric services. Among all of the services, there were significant differences between the mean Hb triggers (>2.5 g/dL, p<0.0001) and between the posttransfusion Hb levels (>3 g/dL, p < 0.0001). The variation between the 10th and 90th percentiles for triggers (up to 4 g/dL, p < 0.0001) and posttransfusion Hb levels (up to 6 g/dL, p < 0.0001) were significant. Depending on the service, between 25 and 90% of transfused patients had Hb triggers higher than the restrictive range.


Red blood cell (RBC) transfusion therapy varies significantly in hospitalized children with mean Hb triggers above a restrictive threshold for most services. Our findings suggest that transfusions may be overused and that implementing a restrictive transfusion strategy could decrease the use of RBC transfusions, thereby reducing the associated risks and costs.

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