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Short and long term outcomes following partial exchange transfusion in the polycythaemic newborn: a systematic review
  1. E M Dempsey,
  2. K Barrington
  1. Department of Pediatrics, McGill University Health Center, Montreal, Canada
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr Dempsey
    Department of Neonatology, Coombe Womens Hospital, Dublin, Ireland; edempsey{at}


Background: Severe polycythaemia in the neonate may produce symptoms due to hyperviscosity and may be associated with serious complications. Partial exchange transfusion will reduce the packed cell volume.

Objective: To determine whether partial exchange transfusion in term infants with polycythaemia (symptomatic and asymptomatic) is associated with improved short and long term outcomes.

Search strategy: Medline, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register of the Cochrane Library were searched. The following keywords were used: polycythaemia, partial exchange transfusion, hyperviscosity, and limited to the newborn. This covered years 1966–2004. Abstracts of the Pediatric Academic Societies and personal files were also searched.

Selection criteria: Randomised or quasi-randomised trials in term infants with polycythaemia and/or documented hyperviscosity were considered. Clinically relevant outcomes included were short term (resolution of symptoms, neurobehavioural scores, major complications) and long term neurodevelopmental outcome.

Data collection and analysis: All data for each study were extracted, assessed, and coded separately. Any disagreements were resolved by discussion.

Main results: Six studies were identified; five had data that could be evaluated for analysis. There is no evidence of an improvement in long term neurological outcome (mental developmental index, incidence of mental delay, and incidence of neurological diagnoses) after partial exchange transfusion in symptomatic or asymptomatic infants. There is no evidence of improvement in early neurobehavioural assessment scores (Brazelton neonatal behavioural assessment scale). Partial exchange transfusion may be associated with an earlier improvement in symptoms, but there are insufficient data to calculate the size of the effect. Necrotising enterocolitis is probably increased by partial exchange transfusion (relative risk 8.68, 95% confidence interval 1.06 to 71.1).

Conclusion: There is no evidence of long term benefit from partial exchange in polycythaemic infants, and the incidence of gastrointestinal injury is increased. The long term outcome is more likely to be related to the underlying cause of polycythaemia.

  • BNBAS, Brazelton neonatal behaviour assessment scale
  • NEC, necrotising enterocolitis
  • PET, partial exchange transfusion
  • polycythaemia
  • partial exchange transfusion
  • neurodevelopmental outcome

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  • Published online first 20 September 2005

  • Competing interests: none declared