A new guide offers recommendations for the nonsurgical management of major hemorrhage, which is a challenging clinical problem.
Major hemorrhage is a significant cause of death and can occur in a myriad of clinical settings.
“In Ontario, we’ve been collecting quality metrics on major hemorrhages to try and make sure that a higher percentage of patients gets the best possible care when they are experiencing significant bleeding,” author Jeannie Callum, MD, professor and director of transfusion medicine at Kingston (Ont.) Health Sciences Centre and Queen’s University, also in Kingston, said in an interview. “There were some gaps, so this is our effort to get open, clear information out to the emergency doctors, intensive care unit doctors, the surgeons, and everyone else involved in managing major hemorrhage, to help close these gaps.”
Fast care essential
The guide aims to provide answers, based on the latest research, to questions such as when to activate a massive hemorrhage protocol (MHP), which patients should receive tranexamic acid (TXA), which blood products should be transfused before laboratory results are available, how to monitor the effects of blood transfusion, and when fibrinogen concentrate or prothrombin complex concentrate should be given.
Not all recommendations will be followed, Dr. Callum said, especially in rural hospitals with limited resources. But the guide is adaptable, and rural hospitals can create protocols that are customized to their unique circumstances.
Care must be “perfect and fast” in the first hour of major injury, said Dr. Callum. “You need to get a proclotting drug in that first hour if you have a traumatic or postpartum bleed. You have to make sure your clotting factors never fail you throughout your resuscitation. You have to be fast with the transfusion. You have to monitor for the complications of the transfusion, electrolyte disturbances, and the patient’s temperature dropping. It’s a complicated situation that needs a multidisciplinary team.”
Bleeding affects everybody in medicine, from family doctors in smaller institutions who work in emergency departments to obstetricians and surgeons, she added.
“For people under the age of 45, trauma is the most common cause of death. When people die of trauma, they die of bleeding. So many people experience these extreme bleeds. We believe that some of them might be preventable with faster, more standardized, more aggressive care. That’s why we wrote this review,” said Dr. Callum.
Administer TXA quickly
The first recommendation is to ensure that every hospital has a massive hemorrhage protocol. Such a protocol is vital for the emergency department, operating room, and obstetric unit. “Making sure you’ve got a protocol that is updated every 3 years and adjusted to the local hospital context is essential,” said Dr. Callum.
Smaller hospitals will have to adjust their protocols according to the capabilities of their sites. “Some smaller hospitals do not have platelets in stock and get their platelets from another hospital, so you need to adjust your protocol to what you are able to do. Not every hospital can control bleeding in a trauma patient, so your protocol would be to stabilize and call a helicopter. Make sure all of this is detailed so that implementing it becomes automatic,” said Dr. Callum.
An MHP should be activated for patients with uncontrolled hemorrhage who meet the clinical criteria of the local hospital and are expected to need blood product support and red blood cells.
“Lots of people bleed, but not everybody is bleeding enough that they need a code transfusion,” said Dr. Callum. Most patients with gastrointestinal bleeds caused by NSAID use can be managed with uncrossed matched blood from the local blood bank. “But in patients who need the full code transfusion because they are going to need plasma, clotting factor replacement, and many other drugs, that is when the MHP should be activated. Don’t activate it when you don’t need it, because doing so activates the whole hospital and diverts care away from other patients.”
TXA should be administered as soon as possible after onset of hemorrhage in most patients, with the exception of gastrointestinal hemorrhage, where a benefit has not been shown.
TXA has been a major advance in treating massive bleeding, Dr. Callum said. “TXA was invented by a Japanese husband-and-wife research team. We know that it reduces the death rate in trauma and in postpartum hemorrhage, and it reduces the chance of major bleeding with major surgical procedures. We give it routinely in surgical procedures. If a patient gets TXA within 60 minutes of injury, it dramatically reduces the death rate. And it costs $10 per patient. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it has no side effects. It’s just amazing.”
Future research must address several unanswered questions, said Dr. Callum. These questions include whether prehospital transfusion improves patient outcomes, whether whole blood has a role in the early management of major hemorrhage, and what role factor concentrates play in patients with major bleeding.