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OBJECTIVES: To determine whether it is safe to use a conservative packed red blood cell transfusion hemoglobin (Hgb) threshold (5.5 g/dL) compared with a liberal transfusion threshold (7.0 g/dL) for asymptomatic musculoskeletal injured trauma patients who are no longer in the initial resuscitative period.

METHODS: Design: Prospective, randomized, multicenter trial.

Setting: Three level 1 trauma centers.

Patient Selection Criteria: Patients aged 18-50 with an associated musculoskeletal injury with Hgb less than 9 g/dL or expected drop below 9 g/dL with planned surgery who were stable and no longer being actively resuscitated were randomized once their Hgb dropped below 7 g/dL to a conservative transfusion threshold of 5.5 g/dL versus a liberal threshold of 7.0 g/dL.

Outcome Measures and Comparisons: Postoperative infection, other post-operative complications and Musculoskeletal Functional Assessment scores obtained at baseline, 6 months, and 1 year were compared for liberal and conservative transfusion thresholds.

RESULTS: Sixty-five patients completed 1 year follow-up. There was a significant association between a liberal transfusion strategy and higher rate of infection (P = 0.01), with no difference in functional outcomes at 6 months or 1 year. This study was adequately powered at 92% to detect a difference in superficial infection (7% for liberal group, 0% for conservative, P < 0.01) but underpowered to detect a difference for deep infection (14% for liberal group, 6% for conservative group, P = 0.2).

CONCLUSIONS: A conservative transfusion threshold of 5.5 g/dL in an asymptomatic young trauma patient with associated musculoskeletal injuries leads to a lower infection rate without an increase in adverse outcomes and no difference in functional outcomes at 6 months or 1 year.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Therapeutic Level II. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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