There is still no alternative that is as effective or as well tolerated as blood; nevertheless, the search for ways to conserve, and even eliminate blood transfusion, continues. Based on hemoglobin levels, practice guidelines for the use of perioperative transfusion of red blood cells in patients undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting have been formulated by the National Institutes of Health and the American Society of Anesthesiologists. However, it has been argued that more physiologic indicators of adequacy of oxygen delivery should be used to assess the need for blood transfusion. Methods used for conserving blood during surgery include autologous blood donation, acute normovolemic hemodilution and intra- and postoperative blood recovery and reinfusion. The guidelines for the use of autologous blood transfusion are controversial and it does not appear to be cost effective compared with allogeneic blood transfusion in patients undergoing cardiac surgery. Similarly, the cost effectiveness of intra- and postoperative blood recovery and reinfusion need further evaluation. Treatment with recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEPO) remains unapproved in the US for patients undergoing cardiac or vascular surgery, but it is a valuable adjunct in Jehovah's Witness patients, for whom blood is unacceptable. The characterization of darbepoetin alfa, a novel erythropoiesis stimulating protein with a 3-fold greater plasma elimination half-life compared with rhEPO, is an important advance in this field. Darbepoetin alfa appears to be effective in treating the anemia in patients with renal failure or cancer and trials in patients with surgical anemia are planned. Desmopressin has been used to effectively reduce intraoperative blood loss. Topical agents to prevent blood loss, such as fibrin glue and fibrin gel, and agents that alter platelet function, such as aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) or dipyridamole, need further evaluation in patients undergoing cardiac surgery. Aprotinin has been shown to preserve hemostasis and reduce allogeneic blood exposure to a greater extent than the antifibrinolytic agents tranexamic acid and aminocaproic acid. Controlled clinical trials comparing the costs of these agents with clinical outcomes, along with tolerability profiles in patients at risk for substantial perioperative bleeding are needed.
View details for PubMedID 14728016