Red blood cell transfusion in preterm neonates: current perspectives
Neonatology and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Children Hospital, Spedali Civili, Brescia, Italy
Abstract: Preterm neonates, especially very low birth weight infants, remain a category of patients with high transfusion needs; about 90% of those with <1,000 g birth weight may be transfused several times during their hospital stay. However, neonatal red blood cells (RBC) transfusion is not without risks. In addition to well-known adverse events, several severe side effects have been observed unique to preterm infants, such as transfusion-related acute gut injury, intraventricular hemorrhage, and increased mortality risk. It is therefore important to reduce the frequency of RBC transfusion in critically ill neonates, by delayed clamping or milking the umbilical cord, using residual cord blood for initial laboratory investigations, reducing phlebotomy losses, determining transfusion guidelines, and ensuring the most appropriate nutrition, with the optimal supplementation of iron, folic acid, and vitamins. Ideally, RBC transfusion should be tailored to the individual requirements of the single infant. However, many controversies still remain, and the decision on whether to transfuse or not is often made on an empirical basis. Recently, a few clinical trials have been performed with the aim to compare the risk/benefit ratio of restrictive versus liberal transfusion criteria. No significant differences in short-term outcomes were observed, suggesting that the restrictive criteria may reduce the need for transfusion and the related side effects. Neurodevelopmental long-term outcome seemed more favorable in the liberal group at first evaluation, especially for boys, and significantly better in the restrictive group at a later clinical investigation. Magnetic resonance imaging scans, performed at an average age of 12 years, showed that intracranial volume was substantially smaller in the liberal group compared with controls. When sex effects were evaluated, the girls in the liberal group had the most significant abnormalities. In conclusion, it would seem preferable to adopt restrictive criteria. Current recommendation on transfusion therapy should be revised to take into account this suggestion.
Keywords: preterm neonates, red blood cells, transfusion, anemia
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