Several techniques have been developed to limit the use of allogeneic blood by perioperative re-infusion of the patient’s own red cells. These technologies include cell salvage, acute normovolemic dilution, and preoperative autologous blood donation (PABD).1,2  The popularity of all three techniques grew in the 1980s as public fear over HIV and hepatitis B/C transmission rose.  In PABD, patients donate one or more units of blood within 40-45 days of the planned procedure on a pre-determined schedule. This blood is then processed and retained specifically for that patient at the time of surgery. The use of PABD has decreased over the last decade in North America because of concerns regarding safety, cost-effectiveness, wastage, and overall patient benefit.

Contraindications for PABD

Patient and procedure selection for PABD remain controversial. Certain patient characteristics are absolute contraindications, including risk of bacteremia, significant cardiac or pulmonary disease, and seizure disorders. Age (either paediatric or geriatric) is no longer considered a contraindication, and PABD is safe in these groups.6,7  Anaemia is a relative contraindication, and a preoperative haemoglobin of 110g/L, with a hematocrit of at least 30-33%, is considered a minimum baseline requirement for donation.1,4,8,9 

Mathematical models and clinical data strongly suggest that anaemia below this level does not allow for adequate reconstitution of a safe preoperative blood oxygen carrying capacity.9-11  Reconstitution can take as long as 30-35 days for each unit of donated blood.10,12  Considering the shelf life of donated red cells (42-49 days),  it becomes clear that post-donation, preoperative haemoglobin may be decreased even in healthy patients.

Avoidance of anaemia due to PABD is assisted by the use of daily oral iron supplementation (150-300 mg bid) and erythropoetin injection.5,13,14  As a result of these considerations, the use of PABD should be restricted to procedures with significant expected blood loss. Preoperative donation is recommended for procedures with a transfusion rate greater than 10%1,4,11,15  such as complex lumbar spine surgery and total joint arthroplasty.6,11,16-19

Benefits and Risks of PABD

A number of benefits are associated with the appropriate use of PABD, the primary benefit of course being the decreased need for allogeneic blood transfusion. In complex orthopaedic operations, allogeneic transfusion rates may drop by as much as 68%.8,14,16-22  Decreased rates of viral infection transmission such as HIV and hepatitis remain a major benefit, although fears of this devastating complication have lessened as the risks of contaminated blood have decreased in the Canadian blood supply.23  The use of autologous blood has also been shown to avoid the increased systemic bacterial infection risk associated with allogeneic blood transfusion in procedures such as large total joint replacement.17,21,24  Furthermore, in orthopaedic procedures, total hospital length of stay has also been shown to be decreased in patients who participated in PABD programs.17,25

More recently, attention has been turned to the risks and effectiveness of PABD. For example, despite the lower risk of receiving allogeneic blood after PABD, it has been shown that the relative risk of transfusion of any kind (including autologous) is moderately increased.14,21  In clinical studies of elective orthopaedic and spine surgery, wasted units account for 10-90% of all donations.6-8,11,16,17,19,20,24,25  This wide variability can be attributed to changes in transfusion practice over time and location, as well as differences in the amount of pre-donated blood and the transfusion risk for each procedure type.

Depending on the transfusion triggers, some studies have shown that discharge hematocrit values can be lower in patients who have participated in PADB programs. This finding suggests that some patients who donate do not gain a net benefit due to wastage of their donated blood or the inability to reconstitute their haemoglobin preoperatively.8,18  Finally, cost-effectiveness studies have failed to demonstrate significant benefit. Donation of autologous blood has an incremental cost-effectiveness measure of up to US $235,000 per Quality-Adjusted Life Year (QALY), which is considered a poor investment by most measures.26


PABD remains a useful choice for select patients. In healthy, non-anemic patients undergoing procedures such as revision hip replacement or mulitilevel lumbar fusion, it likely reduces the chance of exposure to allogeneic blood and its associated risks.27 Patient factors such as preoperative haemoglobin, weight, and age should be considered.4,8  Finally, the expected blood loss from surgery should be carefully balanced against the patient’s overall ability to donate and reconstitute that volume of red cells.


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Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2011 issue of COA Bulletin