Red blood cell transfusion in premature infants leads to worse necrotizing enterocolitis outcomes

Kellie E. Cunningham, Frances C. Okolo, Robyn Baker, Kevin P. Mollen, Misty Good

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22 Scopus citations


Background Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a severe intestinal disease of premature infants with high mortality. Studies suggest a causative relationship between red blood cell (RBC) transfusion and NEC; however, whether RBC transfusion leads to worse outcomes in NEC is unknown. We sought to determine whether RBC transfusion was associated with an increased risk of surgical NEC and mortality. Methods In this retrospective study, 115 patients were enrolled with NEC Bell's stage 2A or greater from 2010-2015. Patients were classified based on the timing of RBC transfusion before NEC: ≤72 h, >72 h, and no transfusion. Variables including gestational age (GA), birth weight (BW), feedings, and hematocrit levels were analyzed. Outcomes were surgical intervention for NEC following RBC transfusion and mortality. Results Twenty-three (20%) infants developed NEC ≤ 72 h after RBC transfusion, 16 (69.6%) required surgery with a mortality rate of 21.7% (n = 5). Seventeen (15%) infants developed NEC > 72 h after RBC transfusion, 12 (70.6%) required surgery with a mortality rate of 23.5% (n = 4). 75 (65%) patients developed NEC without RBC transfusion, 17 (22.7%) required surgery with a mortality rate of 4% (n = 3). Lower GA and BW were significantly associated with RBC transfusion and the need for surgical intervention. RBC transfusion ≤72 h before NEC was associated with surgical NEC (pairwise adjusted P < 0.001) and mortality (pairwise adjusted P = 0.048). However, multivariable logistic regression analysis revealed RBC transfusion is not an independent risk factor for surgical NEC. Conclusions Infants of lower GA and BW were more likely to receive an RBC transfusion before NEC, which was significantly associated with surgical intervention and an increasing risk of mortality. Judicious use of transfusions in premature infants may improve NEC outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-165
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Anemia
  • Mortality
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis
  • Neonatal
  • Prematurity
  • Surgical intervention


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