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Health scare of the week: Beware of blood transfusions

Blood transfusions may do more harm than good, a series of new studies indicates, prompting a review of the procedure by the National Institutes of Health. One study of 9,000 patients who underwent heart surgery found that those who received blood transfu

Blood transfusions may do more harm than good, a series of new studies indicates, prompting a review of the procedure by the National Institutes of Health. One study of 9,000 patients who underwent heart surgery found that those who received blood transfusions afterward were three times more likely to die within a year. Cardiac anesthesiologist Bruce Spiess tells the London Guardian that, popular as they are, “probably 40 percent to 60 percent of blood transfusions are not good for the patients.” Donated blood quickly loses its freshness during storage: Studies have found that red blood cells can become stiff and sticky, with a limited ability to transport oxygen. Chemicals in donated blood may also suppress the immune system, making it more difficult for patients to fight off potential post-surgery infections. Cardiac surgeon Gavin Murphy says it’s time to seriously evaluate transfusions’ risks and benefits. “There is virtually no high-quality study in surgery, or intensive care or acute care, outside of when you are bleeding to death, that shows that blood transfusion is beneficial,” he says. “And many that show it is bad for you.”

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