Clinical Health Updates

Epoetin alfa does not reduce transfusions in critically ill

Clinical Question:
Does epoetin alfa reduce the need for transfusions and improve clinical outcomes in critically ill patients?

Bottom Line:
Epoetin alfa did not reduce the need for transfusions in critically ill patients, but increased thrombotic events. Mortality was reduced among the trauma patients.

Corwin HL, Gettinger A, Fabian TC, et al, for the EPO Critical Care Trials Group. Efficacy and safety of epoetin alfa in critically ill patients. N Engl J Med 2007;357(10):965-976.

Study Design:
Randomized controlled trial (double-blinded)

Anemia, which is common in the critically ill, is often treated with red-cell transfusions, which are associated with poor clinical outcomes. The investigators hypothesized that therapy with recombinant human erythropoietin (epoetin alfa) might reduce the need for red-cell transfusions. In this prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, they enrolled 1460 medical, surgical, or trauma patients between 48 and 96 hours after admission to the intensive care unit. Epoetin alfa (40,000 U) or placebo was administered weekly, for a maximum of 3 weeks; patients were followed for 140 days. The primary end point was the percentage of patients who received a red-cell transfusion. Secondary end points were the number of red-cell units transfused, mortality, and the change in hemoglobin concentration from baseline. As compared with the use of placebo, epoetin alfa therapy did not result in a decrease in either the number of patients who received a red-cell transfusion (relative risk for the epoetin alfa group vs. the placebo group, 0.95; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.85 to 1.06) or the mean (+/-SD) number of red-cell units transfused (4.5+/-4.6 units in the epoetin alfa group and 4.3+/-4.8 units in the placebo group, P=0.42). However, the hemoglobin concentration at day 29 increased more in the epoetin alfa group than in the placebo group (1.6+/-2.0 g per deciliter vs. 1.2+/-1.8 g per deciliter, P<0.001). Mortality tended to be lower at day 29 among patients receiving epoetin alfa (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.79; 95% CI, 0.56 to 1.10); this effect was also seen in prespecified analyses in those with a diagnosis of trauma (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.37; 95% CI, 0.19 to 0.72). A similar pattern was seen at day 140 (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.86; 95% CI, 0.65 to 1.13), particularly in those with trauma (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.40; 95% CI, 0.23 to 0.69). As compared with placebo, epoetin alfa was associated with a significant increase in the incidence of thrombotic events (hazard ratio, 1.41; 95% CI, 1.06 to 1.86).