Current issues with blood transfusions in sickle cell disease

E P Vichinsky
Seminars in Hematology 2001, 38 (1 Suppl 1): 14-22
With increased recognition of the profound morbidity of sickle cell disease and with growing evidence of the efficacy of transfusion therapy in prevention and treatment of sickle cell complications, most patients now receive intermittent transfusion therapy. The purpose of this report is to review blood component therapy and Its risks for sickle cell patients. Packed red cells are the preferred blood component. Leukocyte-reduced units should be standard because of their beneficial effects in reducing alloimmunization, transfusion reactions, platelet refractoriness, and infection transmission. The use of washed, frozen, or Irradiated units is limited to specific problems. Sickle trait-positive units function normally, but because of difficulties with calculating hemoglobin S percentages and leukocyte filters, they are not routinely used. Transfusion-acquired infections have shown a marked decrease but still present a major risk. Viral hepatitis transmission is currently low, but at least 10% of adult sickle cell patients are hepatitis C positive, and they often have liver damage. Although bacterial infections are rare, they account for 16% of transfusion-related fatalities. Patients who are iron overloaded are particularly vulnerable to Yersina enterocolitica. Red cell alloimmunization is a serious problem that could potentially affect 50% of transfused patients. However, preventive phenotypic matching for common antigens can minimize alloimmunization; limited matching for at least E, C, and K has become the standard of care. Recently, more patients are being identified who have developed red cell autoantibodies, which can mask alloantibodies and occasionally are hemolytic. Careful laboratory evaluation of all cases is essential. Transfusions also may trigger sickle cell events, including pain crises, stroke, and acute pulmonary deterioration. In part, these are induced by blood viscosity and increased blood pressure. Diuretic therapy and close monitoring of transfusion volume and vital signs can minimize these events. In summary, transfusion therapy carries risks, but the routine use of leukocyte-reduced, phenotypically matched units in conjunction with close monitoring of patients can make transfusion therapy safer.

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