Improved treatment for patients with blood poisoning

New Danish research has revealed that the number of blood transfusions could be halved in patients with blood poisoning, and that treatment can be improved.
Blood transfusions are very common for patients in intensive care departments, as a low blood count is harmful for these very sick patients. Now, however, a large Scandinavian trial has shown that blood consumption for the patients who are most ill, i.e. patients with severe blood poisoning, can be halved.

The trial has been coordinated by Dr. Lars Broksø Holst, a PhD student, and Prof. Anders Perner from the Intensive Care Department at Rigshospitalet on behalf of 32 intensive care departments throughout the Nordic region. A total of 1,000 patients have been included in the trial, making it is the largest of its kind.

"Our results show that we can cut our consumption of blood by half and reduce the percentage of patients with blood poisoning having to receive a blood transfusion by one-third.
The results will form the basis of improved treatment for patients with blood poisoning," said Lars Broksø Holst.

Every year thousands of Danes suffer blood poisoning and at global level there are millions, so these results could be extremely significant for total blood consumption.

These trials will benefit both patients and society as a whole. A blood transfusion costs more than DKK 1,000 and if in the future we can give less blood, there will be positive healthcare-economic consequences," said Anders Perner, and he continued:

"The results of this and previous trials emphasise the importance of conducting large clinical trials of a number of established treatments for critically ill patients. This is the only way of ensuring that the most ill patients receive the best treatments."

The results have just been presented at a European congress for intensive medicine and they have been published in the prestigious medical journal; New England Journal of Medicine. Read the article

For more information, please contact

Anders Perner, +45 3545-8333,

Fact sheet

Blood poisoning
Blood poisoning (sepsis from the Greek "rotten") is very common, including in Denmark (approx. 1,000 patients a year), and it is possibly the most common cause of death globally. Blood poisoning usually occurs in connection with severe infections of the lungs, digestive system, urinary tract or open wounds. Once the infection moves to the organs, usually the brain, lungs, circulatory system and kidneys, it is termed 'severe'.

If patients become so ill that they have to be admitted to an intensive care department, mortality is up to 40%. Blood poisoning is the most frequent cause of death in Danish intensive care departments. A total of about 4,000 Danes die of blood poisoning every year; more than die of blood clots in the heart and cancer of the breast and intestine combined. Over the past couple of years, clinicians and researchers at Danish hospitals have made significant contributions to improving treatment for these very sick patients.

Blood transfusion
A blood transfusion is produced using red blood cells from healthy blood donors which are mixed with saline and sugar-based solutions. The treatment is life-saving for severe bleeding, but there are also side-effects such as fever, allergic reactions and infections. Blood transfusions affect the immune system of the recipient, but we do not know what this means overall for our severely sick patients.

Danish and international studies show that one-half of all patients in intensive-care departments receive blood transfusions, as low haemoglobin percentages are common among these patients. More than 90% of transfusions are given to patients who are not bleeding.

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