RBC Transfusion Improves Cerebral Oxygen Delivery in Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

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29 Scopus citations


Objectives: Impaired oxygen delivery due to reduced cerebral blood flow is the hallmark of delayed cerebral ischemia following subarachnoid hemorrhage. Since anemia reduces arterial oxygen content, it further threatens oxygen delivery increasing the risk of cerebral infarction. Thus, subarachnoid hemorrhage may constitute an important exception to current restrictive transfusion practices, wherein raising hemoglobin could reduce the risk of ischemia in a critically hypoperfused organ. In this physiologic proof-of-principle study, we determined whether transfusion could augment cerebral oxygen delivery, particularly in vulnerable brain regions, across a broad range of hemoglobin values. Design: Prospective study measuring cerebral blood flow and oxygen extraction fraction using 15O-PET. Vulnerable brain regions were defined as those with baseline oxygen delivery less than 4.5 mL/100 g/min. Setting: PET facility located within the Neurology/Neurosurgery ICU. Patients: Fifty-two patients at risk for delayed cerebral ischemia after aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage with hemoglobin 7-13 g/dL. Interventions: Transfusion of one unit of RBCs over 1 hour. Measurements and Main Results: Baseline hemoglobin was 9.7 g/dL (range, 6.9-12.9), and cerebral blood flow was 43 ± 11 mL/100 g/min. After transfusion, hemoglobin rose from 9.6 ± 1.4 to 10.8 ± 1.4 g/dL (12%; p < 0.001) and oxygen delivery from 5.0 (interquartile range, 4.4-6.6) to 5.5 mL/100 g/min (interquartile range, 4.8-7.0) (10%; p = 0.001); the response was comparable across the range of hemoglobin values. In vulnerable brain regions, transfusion resulted in a greater (16%) rise in oxygen delivery associated with reduction in oxygen extraction fraction, independent of Hgb level (p = 0.002 vs normal regions). Conclusions: This study demonstrates that RBC transfusion improves cerebral oxygen delivery globally and particularly to vulnerable regions in subarachnoid hemorrhage patients at risk for delayed cerebral ischemia across a wide range of hemoglobin values and suggests that restrictive transfusion practices may not be appropriate in this population. Large prospective trials are necessary to determine if these physiologic benefits translate into clinical improvement and outweigh the risk of transfusion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)653-659
Number of pages7
JournalCritical care medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • anemia
  • cerebral ischemia, cerebral oxygen delivery
  • delayed cerebral ischemia
  • vasospasm


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