BOSTON (AP) -- Doctors can save the lives of many elderly heart attack victims by quickly giving blood transfusions to those who have even mild anemia, a study found.
Researchers said this advice, if widely adopted, could save thousands of people in the United States each year. Taking care of anemia is probably as important as giving aspirin, beta blockers or clot-dissolving drugs, which are already standard care for heart attacks.
The size of the benefit depends on how anemic people are. But even those with mild cases lower their risk of death by one-quarter during the first month of recovery if they get transfusions. The risk falls by two-thirds among the severely anemic.
Anemia is common among the elderly, and doctors routinely check for it. But there is no consensus about how to use the information, and willingness to give transfusions after heart attacks varies widely among doctors.
"There is very little evidence about the role of anemia in patients having heart attacks or when you should give them blood transfusions," said Dr. Harlan Krumholz of Yale University.
His study confirmed the link between anemia treatment and survival in a review of 78,974 Medicare patients treated for heart attacks in 1994 and 1995. The results were published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
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