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Cheap drug cuts need for blood transfusions

Offering a cheap drug to patients about to undergo planned operations could cut the need for blood transfusions by a third, say doctors who claim it could also save the NHS £25 million a year.Cheap drug cuts need for blood transfusionsThe drug, called tranexamic acid, works by helping blood clot more effectively. Its effects at stabilising blood clots have been known for years, and it is even sold over the counter to women with heavy periods.

However, it is not routinely used in elective NHS operations like hip replacements.

Now doctors at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine have conducted a review of 129 clinical trials, comparing patients undergoing a wide range of planned operations who received the drug, to those who did not.

They found it reduced the chance of a patient needing a blood transfusion by about a third. They estimated that if all such NHS patients were offered it, more than 100,000 could avoiding have a transfusion every year.

Writing in the British Medical Journal Effect of tranexamic acid on surgical bleeding: systematic review and cumulative meta-analysis, the authors concluded: “Strong evidence that tranexamic acid reduces blood transfusion in surgery has been available for many years.”

“Surgical patients should be made aware of this evidence so that they can make an informed choice.”

Professor Ian Roberts, one of the authors, added: “Blood transfusions can save lives but the procedure is not entirely without risk. Patients should be given more information and choice before they go ahead with a planned operation.”

The study also suggests more widespread use of tranexamic acid would make economic sense, as a dose costs about £3, compared to the cost of a blood transfusion, which is about £125 per pint.

The researchers estimated that tranexamic acid use could save the NHS up to £25 million each year.