Blood transfusions save millions of lives every year, and I happen to think giving blood is one of the simplest and best acts of love for your fellow humans. But banked blood may also be causing unintended harm.
In an interesting piece I caught in this week’s Time, writer Alice Park details a difficult question health experts have been pondering for some time now: whether banked blood is causing deaths in some patients. Heart attacks and deaths jump significantly – as much as 25% – in patients who receive blood transfusions. It’s not due to allergies or infections or mistakes. Even accounting for these factors, heart attacks still happen more often and without warning in those who get transfusions. What gives?
As it turns out, nitric oxide deficiency is common in stored blood. Nitric oxide (NO) assists red blood cells in transporting oxygen to various tissues, as well as supporting vessels. Technically a gas, NO is vital to proper blood function, and banked blood has been found to show depleted levels as high as 70%. In other words, patients are getting blood that can’t deliver the goods. In light of this, doctors are increasingly waiting until patients’ hematocrit levels are lowered – as low as 30%, a change in practice from the previous standard of 45-55%. That helps. Another solution – and a more controversial one – is to inject patients with liquid NO to mitigate the risk of a blood transfusion.
Another interesting note in medical history, I think, and I wanted to share it with you.
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