Prophylactic red-cell transfusions in pregnant patients with sickle cell disease. A randomized cooperative study

M Koshy, L Burd, D Wallace, A Moawad, J Baron
New England Journal of Medicine 1988 December 1, 319 (22): 1447-52
Prophylactic blood transfusion has come to be regarded as necessary in the treatment of patients with sickle cell disease during pregnancy. Because of the risks associated with blood products and reports of successful outcomes without the use of blood transfusion, we conducted a prospective randomized controlled study of this issue. Seventy-two pregnant patients with sickle cell anemia were randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups: 36 received prophylactic transfusions of frozen red cells, and 36 received red-cell transfusions only for medical or obstetric emergencies. Twenty-eight patients with sickle cell anemia who did not qualify for randomization (mainly because they had other medical disorders), 66 with sickle cell-hemoglobin C disease, and 23 with sickle cell-beta-thalassemia were also followed and received transfusions only for emergencies. There was no significant difference in perinatal outcome between the offspring of mothers with sickle cell disease who were assigned to treatment with prophylactic transfusions and those who were not (15 vs. 5 percent). The occurrence of a perinatal death in a previous pregnancy and the presence of twins in the present pregnancy were two major risk factors for an unfavorable outcome; when they were present, perinatal mortality was 50 percent. Perinatal mortality was somewhat higher in the two groups that were randomized than in the three groups that were not. Prophylactic transfusion significantly reduced the incidence of painful crises of sickle cell disease (P less than 0.01) and substantially reduced the cumulative incidence of other complications of this disorder (P = 0.07). Other medical and obstetric complications occurred with nearly equal frequency in the two randomized groups. Increases in costs, the number of hospitalizations, and the risk of alloimmunization were disadvantages of prophylactic transfusion. We conclude that the omission of prophylactic red-cell transfusion will not harm pregnant patients with sickle cell disease or their offspring.

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