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scientific articles

Red blood cell transfusion to treat or prevent complications in sickle cell disease: An overview of Cochrane reviews

key information

source: The Cochrane database of systematic reviews

year: 2018

authors: Fortin PM, Hopewell S, Estcourt LJ


Globally, sickle cell disease (SCD) is one of the commonest severe monogenic disorders, due to the inheritance of two abnormal haemoglobin (beta globin) genes. SCD can cause severe pain, significant end-organ damage, pulmonary complications, and premature death. Red blood cell (RBC) transfusions are used to treat complications of SCD, e.g. acute chest syndrome (ACS) (this often involves a single transfusion episode), or they can be part of a regular long-term transfusion programme to prevent SCD complications.

To summarize the evidence in Cochrane Reviews of the effectiveness and safety of RBC transfusions versus no transfusion, or restrictive (to increase the total haemoglobin) versus liberal (to decrease the haemoglobin S level below a specified percentage) transfusion, for treating or preventing complications experienced by people with SCD.

We included Cochrane Reviews of randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, that addressed various SCD complications and had RBC transfusion as an intervention or comparator. We assessed the methodological quality of included reviews according to the AMSTAR quality assessment.

Main Results:
We included 15 Cochrane Reviews, 10 of which had no included studies with an RBC transfusion intervention (five reported RCTs with other interventions; and five contained no studies). Five of the 15 reviews included participants randomised to RBC transfusion, but in one of these reviews only 10 participants were randomised with no usable data. Four reviews (nine trials with 1502 participants) reported data comparing short- or long-term RBC transfusions versus standard care, disease-modifying agents, a restrictive versus a liberal transfusion strategy and long-term RBC transfusions versus transfusions to treat complications. All reviews were of high quality according to AMSTAR quality assessment, however, the quality of the included trials was highly variable across outcomes. Trials were downgraded according to GRADE methodology for risk of bias, indirectness (most trials were conducted in children with HbSS), and imprecision (outcomes had wide confidence intervals).

Authors’ Conclusions:
This overview provides support from two high-quality Cochrane Reviews for the use of RBC transfusions in preventing stroke in children and adolescents at high risk of stroke (abnormal TCDs or SCI) and evidence that it may decrease the risk of SCI in children with abnormal TCD velocities. In addition RBC transfusions may reduce the risk of ACS and painful crisis in this population. This overview highlights the lack of high-quality evidence in adults with SCD and the number of reviews that have no evidence for the use of RBC transfusions across a spectrum of SCD complications. Also of concern is the variable and often incomplete reporting of patient-relevant outcomes in the included trials such as SCD-related serious adverse events and quality of life.

DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012082.pub2

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