Red blood cell transfusion is thought to improve cell respiration during septic shock. Nevertheless, its acute impact on oxygen transport and metabolism in this condition remains highly debatable. The objective of this study was to evaluate the impact of red blood cell transfusion on microcirculation and oxygen metabolism in patients with sepsis and septic shock. We conducted a search in
the MEDLINE®, Elsevier and Scopus databases. We included studies conducted in adult humans with sepsis and septic shock. A systematic review and meta-analysis were performed using the DerSimonian and Laird random-effects model. A p value < 0.05 was considered significant. Nineteen manuscripts with 428 patients were included in the analysis. Red blood cell transfusions were associated with an increase in the pooled mean venous oxygen saturation of 3.7% (p < 0.001), a decrease in oxygen extraction ratio of -6.98 (p < 0.001) and had no significant effect on the cardiac index (0.02L/minute; p = 0,96). Similar results were obtained in studies including simultaneous measurements of venous oxygen saturation, oxygen extraction ratio, and cardiac index. Red blood cell transfusions led to a significant increase in the proportion of perfused small vessels (2.85%; p = 0.553), while tissue oxygenation parameters revealed a significant increase in the tissue hemoglobin index (1.66; p = 0.018). Individual studies reported significant improvements in tissue oxygenation and sublingual microcirculatory parameters in patients with deranged microcirculation at baseline. Red blood cell transfusions seemed to improve systemic oxygen metabolism with apparent independence from cardiac index variations. Some beneficial effects have been observed for tissue oxygenation and microcirculation parameters, particularly in patients with more severe alterations at baseline. More studies are necessary to evaluate their clinical impact and to individualize transfusion decisions.