Traumatic Brain Injury: Maintaining Hemoglobin With Transfusions or EPO Found Not Helpful

Claudia Robertson, MD Professor, Department of Neurosurgery Baylor College of Medicine One Baylor Plaza Houston, Texas Interview with:
Claudia Robertson, MD
Professor, Department of Neurosurgery
Baylor College of Medicine
One Baylor Plaza
Houston, Texas 77030

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Robertson: We studied two issues related to treatment of anemia after severe traumatic brain injury.

One issue was the optimal hemoglobin transfusion threshold for this subgroup of critically ill patients, and the second issue was use of erythropoietin to increase hemoglobin concentration and reduce the need for transfusion.  For the transfusion threshold, we found that there was no difference in long-term neurological outcome when patients were transfused at a hemoglobin concentration of less than 7 g/dl compared to those transfused at less than 10 g/dl.  In addition, there was an increased risk of thromboembolic events in those transfused at less than 10 g/dl.  With administration of erythropoietin, we found no improvements in neurological outcome, and no increase in hemoglobin concentration or reduction in the need for transfusion.

Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Robertson: It has been believed that maintaining hemoglobin concentration at least 10 g/dl is an important management practice to reduce secondary injury to the brain.  This study does not support that practice.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Robertson: The major message is that patients with traumatic brain injury should be managed the same as other critically ill patients with a restrictive transfusion practice.  There is no advantage to maintaining hemoglobin concentration at a higher level, and there is some risk of transfusion related complications.  There is also no support from this study for use of erythropoietin in patients with traumatic brain injury.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Robertson: The findings with erythropoietin were disappointing because there have been many studies in experimental models of brain injury showing neuroprotection.  It is possible that we are not able to give high enough doses of erythropoietin in patients because of potential side effects and that derivatives of erythropoietin which do not have these side effects may still be of interest for future clinical trials.


Last Updated on June 4, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD