Patient Care

American College of Physicians Releases Clinical Practice Guideline for Treating Anemia in Heart Disease Patients


Clinical question: What is the recommended threshold for red blood cell (RBC) transfusion and erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESA) in anemic hospitalized patients with coronary heart disease?

Background: Anemia can worsen cardiac function and is associated with increased risk of hospitalization and death in patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) or congestive heart failure (CHF). It is unclear if treatments such as RBC transfusion, ESA, or iron replacement improve outcomes in patients with heart disease.

Study design: Systematic review.

Setting: Studies of hospitalized medical and surgical patients.

Synopsis: The guideline was developed by reviewing studies evaluating anemia treatment outcomes, including mortality, hospitalization, exercise tolerance, quality of life, and cardiovascular events. Six studies evaluated the benefits and harms resulting from RBC transfusion, each determined to be low-quality evidence. The current evidence showed no benefit when comparing liberal (hemoglobin (Hgb) >10 g/dL) versus restrictive (Hgb <10 g/dL) transfusion thresholds. Potential harms of transfusion included fever, transfusion-related acute lung injury, and CHF.

Given the low-quality evidence, the American College of Physicians (ACP) makes a weak recommendation for a restrictive transfusion strategy of Hgb 7-8 g/dL in patients with CHD.

A review of 16 RCTs (moderate-quality evidence) evaluated the effects of ESAs in mild to moderate anemia and showed no difference in outcomes for patients with CHD and CHF. Harms associated with ESA therapy included hypertension and venous thrombosis. The ACP makes a strong recommendation not to use ESAs in patients with heart disease.

Bottom line: The ACP recommends restrictive transfusion with hemoglobin threshold of 7-8 g/dL in hospitalized patients with CHD (weak recommendation, low-quality evidence) and recommends against using erythropoiesis-stimulating agents for mild to moderate anemia in patients with CHF or CHD (strong recommendation, moderate-quality evidence).

Citation: Qaseem A, Humphrey LL, Fitterman N, Starkey M, Shekelle P. Treatment of anemia in patients with heart disease: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2013;159(11):770-779.

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