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BACKGROUND: Congenital heart disease is the most commonly diagnosed neonatal congenital condition. Without surgery, only 30% to 40% of patients affected will survive to 10 years old. Mortality has fallen since the 1990s with 2006 to 2007 figures showing surgical survival at one year of 95%. Patients with congenital heart disease are potentially exposed to red cell transfusion at many points in the surgical pathway. There are a number of risks associated with red cell transfusion that may be translated into increased patient morbidity and mortality. OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the effects of red cell transfusion on mortality and morbidity on patients with congenital heart disease at the time of cardiac surgery. SEARCH METHODS: We searched 11 bibliographic databases and three ongoing trials databases including the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (Issue 5, 2013), MEDLINE (Ovid, 1950 to 11 June 2013), EMBASE (Ovid, 1980 to 11 June 2013),, World Health Organization (WHO) ICTRP and the ISRCTN Register (to June 2013). We also searched references of all identified trials, relevant review articles and abstracts from between 2006 and 2010 of the most relevant conferences. We did not limit the searches by language of publication. SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing red cell transfusion interventions in patients undergoing cardiac surgery for congenital heart disease. We included participants of any age (neonates, paediatrics and adults) and with any type of congenital heart disease (cyanotic or acyanotic). We excluded patients with congenital heart disease undergoing non-cardiac surgery. No co-morbidities were excluded. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. We contacted study authors for additional information. MAIN RESULTS: We identified 11 trials (862 participants). All trials were in neonatal or paediatric populations. The trials covered only three areas of interest: restrictive versus liberal transfusion triggers (two trials), leukoreduction versus non-leukoreduction (two trials) and standard versus non-standard cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) prime (seven trials). Owing to the clinical diversity in the participant groups (cyanotic (three trials), acyanotic (four trials) or mixed (four trials)) and the intervention groups, it was not appropriate to pool data in a meta-analysis. No study reported data for all the outcomes of interest to this review. Risk of bias was mixed across the included trials, with only attrition bias being low across all trials. Blinding of study personnel and participants was not always possible, depending on the intervention being used.Five trials (628 participants) reported the primary outcome: 30-day mortality. In three trials (a trial evaluating restrictive and liberal transfusion (125 participants), a trial of cell salvage during CPB (309 participants) and a trial of washed red blood cells during CPB (128 participants)), there was no clear difference in mortality at 30 days between the intervention arms. In two trials comparing standard and non-standard CPB prime, there were no deaths in either randomised group. Long-term mortality was similar between randomised groups in one trial each comparing restrictive and liberal transfusion or standard and non-standard CPB prime.Four trials explored a range of adverse effects following red cell transfusion. Kidney failure was the only adverse event that was significantly different: patients receiving cell salvaged red blood cells during CPB were less likely to have renal failure than patients not exposed to cell salvage (risk ratio (RR) 0.26, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.09 to 0.79, 1 study, 309 participants). There was insufficient evidence to determine whether there was a difference between transfusion strategies for any other severe adverse events.The duration of mechanical ventilation was measured in seven trials (768 participants). Overall, there was no consistent difference in the duration of mechanical ventilation between the intervention and control arms.The duration of intensive care unit (ICU) stay was measured in six trials (459 participants). There was no clear difference in the duration of ICU stay between the intervention arms in the transfusion trigger and leukoreduction trials. In the standard versus non-standard CPB prime trials, one trial examining the impact of washing transfused bypass prime red blood cells showed no clear difference in duration of ICU stay between the intervention arms, while the trial assessing ultrafiltration of the priming blood showed a shorter duration of ICU stay in the ultrafiltration group. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There are only a small number of small and heterogeneous trials so there is insufficient evidence to assess the impact of red cell transfusion on patients with congenital heart disease undergoing cardiac surgery accurately. It is possible that the presence or absence of cyanosis impacts on trial outcomes, which would necessitate different clinical management of two groups. Further adequately powered, specific, high-quality trials are warranted to assess this fully.

Original publication




Journal article


Cochrane Database Syst Rev

Publication Date



Cardiopulmonary Bypass, Child, Erythrocyte Transfusion, Heart Defects, Congenital, Humans, Infant, Newborn, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic