Gael J. Lonergan, Lt Col, USAF, MC ; David B. Cline, MAJ, MC, USA ; Susan L. Abbondanzo, MD
1 From the Department of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md (G.J.L.); Departments of Radiologic Pathology (G.J.L.) and Hematopathology (S.L.A.), Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, 14th St and Alaska Ave NW, Bldg 54, Rm M-121, Washington, DC 20306-6000; and Department of Radiology, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC. Received December 15, 2000; revision requested December 28 and received January 26, 2001; accepted February 7.
Sickle cell anemia (SCA) is a disease caused by production of abnormal hemoglobin, which binds with other abnormal hemoglobin molecules within the red blood cell to cause rigid deformation of the cell. This deformation impairs the ability of the cell to pass through small vascular channels; sludging and congestion of vascular beds may result, followed by tissue ischemia and infarction. Infarction is common throughout the body in the patient with SCA, and it is responsible for the earliest clinical manifestation, the acute pain crisis, which is thought to result from marrow infarction. Over time, such insults result in medullary bone infarcts and epiphyseal osteonecrosis. In the brain, white matter and gray matter infarcts are seen, causing cognitive impairment and functional neurologic deficits. The lungs are also commonly affected, with infarcts, emboli (from marrow infarcts and fat necrosis), and a markedly increased propensity for pneumonia. The liver, spleen, and kidney may experience infarction as well. An unusual but life-threatening complication of SCA is sequestration syndrome, wherein a considerable amount of the intravascular volume is sequestered in an organ (usually the spleen), causing vascular collapse; its pathogenesis is unknown. Finally, because the red blood cells are abnormal, they are removed from the circulation, resulting in a hemolytic anemia. For the patient with SCA, however, the ischemic complications of the disease far outweigh the anemia in clinical importance.