Features May 2015 Issue

Multiple Blood Tests May Cause Problems for Surgical Patients

A Cleveland Clinic study finds that cardiac surgery patients may be at higher risk for complications if they undergo frequent blood tests.

Image: Thinstock

Too many blood tests before and after surgery may lead to complications.

Patients who have heart surgery tend to have their blood drawn several times before and after their operations. Health care providers are looking for signs of infection or anemia.

But a recent study by Cleveland Clinic researchers suggests that too many blood tests may be a problem. A study published in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery found laboratory testing of patients undergoing cardiac surgery can lead to excessive bloodletting. And that increases the risk of developing hospital-acquired anemia and a greater need for blood transfusions.

Colleen Koch, MD, vice chair for Research and Education at Cleveland Clinic’s Anesthesiology Institute, and lead author of the study, notes that previous research has shown that patients who receive blood transfusions during heart surgery face higher risks of infections after surgery. After studying the records of more than 1,800 cardiac surgery patients, Dr. Koch says she was startled by how much blood was taken from the patients for testing.

Not surprisingly, the more complex the heart procedures, the greater the need for blood transfusions.

Dr. Koch explains that while blood testing is a necessary part of patient care, patients and their families shouldn’t hesitate to raise their concerns with their health care providers.

“Patients should feel empowered to ask their doctors whether a specific test is necessary— ‘What is the indication for the test? Will it change my care? If so, do you need to do it every day?’” Dr. Koch says. “They should inquire whether smaller-volume test tubes could be used for the tests that are deemed necessary. Every attempt should be made to conserve the patient’s own blood. Every drop of blood counts.”

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