FRIDAY, Dec. 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Heart disease patients who receive smaller amounts of blood during surgery do as well as those who get more blood, a new study finds.
The research included more than 2,000 heart disease patients who were followed for as long as four years after surgery. Half received larger amounts of blood during surgery and half received up to two-thirds less blood.
Those who received less blood did not have an increased risk of death from heart disease, cancer or severe infection, according to the findings published online Dec. 9 in The Lancet.
"There has been a steady decline in the amount of blood in transfusions given to patients in the past three to five years," study leader Dr. Jeffrey Carson, chief of the internal medicine division at Rutgers University Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said in a university news release.
"I think it is very reassuring that we have found that using less blood is OK not just from a short-term perspective, but also a long-term perspective," he added.
About 5 million people receive blood transfusions each year in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These include: surgery patients; accident, burn and trauma patients; and mothers and babies during and after birth.
Doctors determine how much blood a patient needs by assessing how much blood has been lost and by close monitoring of vital signs such as blood pressure, Carson explained.
Too much blood can overload a patient's circulatory system and lead to breathing problems, according to Carson. There can also be an increased risk of infection.
"There are definite risks associated with transfusion," Carson said. "The classic ones are hepatitis and HIV. They are as rare as being hit by lightning, but even so -- why give more blood to anyone if you can't show it benefits them?"
In addition, being able to give less blood might help prevent blood shortages, the researchers noted.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about blood transfusion.