Does sex matter in red blood cell transfusions?

Monday, December 23, 2019 Tricia Abe

When doctors select red blood cell units for transfusion into a patient, they consider the patient’s blood type to determine what types of donor blood would be compatible. What they don’t consider is the sex of the patient and whether the donor is the same (sex-matched) or different sex (sex-mismatched). But this may be a factor worth considering, according to a study led by Dr. Michelle Zeller, Canadian Blood Services medical officer and assistant professor in the department of medicine at McMaster University. 

The study, “Sex-mismatched red blood cell transfusions and mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” was published in May this year in Vox Sanguinis, a peer-reviewed medical journal covering hematology — the study of the physiology of blood.   

Dr. Zeller’s team summarized the evidence from studies that compared outcomes in patients who received sex-matched or sex-mismatched red blood cell transfusions. Their analysis suggests that sex-mismatched red blood cell transfusions may be associated with a higher risk of death, but more investigation is needed.  

Dr. Zeller notes that the findings need to be interpreted with caution because the quality of the evidence from the studies they analysed was very low. “Although our study looked at the outcomes of over 85,000 patients, we found only observational studies — which have a higher risk of bias — available for our analysis,” she says. “But the findings suggest sex-mismatching in red blood cell transfusion is a potentially important issue that needs to be more rigorously examined.” 

Canadian Blood Services – Driving world-class innovation

Through discovery, development and applied research, Canadian Blood Services drives world-class innovation in blood transfusion, cellular therapy and transplantation—bringing clarity and insight to an increasingly complex healthcare future. Our dedicated research team and extended network of partners engage in exploratory and applied research to create new knowledge, inform and enhance best practices, contribute to the development of new services and technologies, and build capacity through training and collaboration. Find out more about our research impact

The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.


Related blog posts

Thursday, October 31, 2019
Catherine Lewis

Drinking the blood of the young, and thereby somehow capturing their youth, is a common literary trope. The ghoulish notion speaks to our cultural fascination with youth, but also to our dread of aging. There’s no evidence-based therapy using the blood of young people to counteract or prevent the...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Jenny Ryan

While blood transfusion is safer now than ever before, scientists continue to look for ways to reduce risk and ensure the healthiest possible outcomes for patients. A unique collaboration between Canadian Blood Services, The Ottawa Hospital and Université Laval has led to some interesting and...

Wednesday, October 04, 2017
Dr. Jeannie Callum

In this six-part series, Dr. Jeannie Callum, a hospital-based transfusion specialist, shares her real-life experience witnessing the impact of blood donation on patient lives. She provides some fascinating insight into blood transfusion, past and present, and emphasizes the need for male donors and why some donors may be safer for patients. Read the complete series here.