It has been used for many years and gained greater attention over time as risks associated with allogenic blood transfusion have seen greater publicity and more fully appreciated. Several medical devices have been developed to assist in salvaging the patient's own blood in the perioperative setting. These are used frequently in cardiothoracic and vascular surgery, in which blood usage has traditionally been high. With a greater effort to avoid adverse events due to transfusion there has also been an emphasis on blood conservation (see bloodless surgery).
Additional risks include transfusion-related acute lung injury, a potentially life-threatening condition with symptoms such as dyspnea, fever, and hypotension occurring within hours of transfusion transfusion related acute lung injury (TRALI), and transfusion-associated immunomodulation,which may suppress the [immune response] and cause adverse effects such a small increase in the risk of postoperative infection.
Other risks such as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), an invariably fatal disease, remain worrisome. Blood centers worldwide have instituted criteria to reject donors who may have been exposed to vCJD. Screening for transmissible diseases and deferral policies for vCJD designed to improve safety have contributed to shrinking the donor pool. Blood shortages exist in the United States and worldwide. In many industrialized countries 5% or less of the eligible population are blood donors.
As a result, the global medical community has increasingly moved from allogenic blood (blood collected from another person) towards autologous infusion, in which patients receive their own blood. Another impetus for autologous transfusion is the position of Jehovah's Witnesses on blood transfusion. For religious reasons, Jehovah's Witnesses will not accept any allogeneic transfusions from a volunteer's blood donation, but may accept the use of autologous blood salvaged during surgery to restore their blood volume and homeostasis during the course of an operation.
Intraoperative blood salvage has been used for many years, especially in cardiothoracic and vascular surgery, where blood usage has traditionally been high.
Regardless of manufacturer, there are many types of cell processors. Cell processors are red cell washing devices that collect anticoagulated shed or recovered blood, wash and separate the red blood cells (RBCs) by centrifugation, and reinfuse the RBCs. RBC washing devices can help remove byproducts in salvaged blood such as activated cytokines, anaphylatoxins, and other waste substances that may have been collected in the reservoir suctioned from the surgical field. However, they also remove viable platelets, clotting factors, and other [plasma proteins] essential to whole blood and homeostasis. The various RBC-savers also yield RBC concentrates with different characteristics and quality.
Direct transfusion is a blood salvaging method associated with cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) circuits or other extracorporeal circuits (ECC) that are used in surgery such as coronary artery bypass grafts (CABG), valve replacement, or surgical repair of the great vessels. Following bypass surgery the ECC circuit contains a significant volume of diluted whole blood that can be harvested in transfer bags and re-infused into patients. Residual CPB blood is fairly dilute ([Hb] = 6–9 g/dL; 60–90 g/L) compared to normal values (12–18 g/dL; 120–180 g/L) and can also contain potentially harmful contaminants such as activated cytokines, anaphylatoxins, and other waste substances that have been linked to organ edema and organ dysfunction and need a diuretic to reverse.
Hemofiltration or ultrafiltration devices constitute the third major type of blood salvage appearing in operating rooms. In general, ultrafiltration devices filter the patient's anticoagulated whole blood. The filter process removes unwanted excess non-cellular plasma water, low molecular weight solutes, platelet inhibitors and some particulate matter through hemoconcentration, including activated cytokines, anaphylatoxins, and other waste substances making concentrated whole blood available for reinfusion. Hemofilter devices return the patient's whole blood with all the blood elements and fractions including platelets, clotting factors, and plasma proteins with a substantial Hb level. Presently, the only whole blood ultrafiltration device in clinical use is the Hemobag These devices do not totally remove potentially harmful contaminants that can be washed away by most RBC-savers. However, the contaminants that are potentially reduced by using RBC-savers, as shown by data from in vitro laboratory tests, are transient and reversible in vivo with hemostatic profiles returning to baselines within hours. The key is that coagulation and homeostasis are immediately improved with the return of concentrated autologous whole blood.
Over the years numerous studies have been done to compare these methods of blood salvage in terms of safety, patient outcomes, and cost effectiveness, often with equivocal or contradictory results.