Transfusions reduce risk for stroke

Blood transfusions reduced the number of first-time strokes in children by 70% in a study called the Stroke Prevention Trial in Sickle Cell Anemia. The results were so exciting, the trial was ended 16 months ahead of schedule in order to announce the results. An immediate alert was sent to doctors and hospitals and was posted on the Internet, said Claude Lenfant, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, MD.

In the study of 130 children with sickle cell anemia, half got blood transfusions every three to four weeks, while half got standard care. Children at high risk for stroke were identified by an ultrasound technique known as transcranial Doppler screening (TCD), which measures the speed of blood flow to the brain.

Because researchers demonstrated that TCD can identify children at risk for stroke, doctors have the ability to treat them preventively — before the problem can injure the child’s brain, said head researcher Robert Adams, MD, of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

Sickle cell anemia affects 72,000 people, making it the most commonly diagnosed genetic disorder in the United States. About 10% of all North American blacks have one gene for sickle cell. When someone inherits two copies of the gene, blood cells become curved and clump up. Anemia and jaundice result and sometimes pain, fever, and shortness of breath.