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Sickle Cell Anemia Differential Diagnoses

  • Author: Joseph E Maakaron, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
 
Updated: Oct 15, 2015
 
 

Diagnostic Considerations

SCD is suggested by the typical clinical picture of chronic hemolytic anemia and vaso-occlusive crisis. The diagnosis is confirmed when electrophoresis demonstrates the presence of homozygous HbS. In addition to HbSS, this test may also document other hemoglobinopathies (eg, HbSC, HbS-beta+ thalassemia).

Sickling variants and sickle trait must be distinguished from HbS disease. HbS exists in combination with other hemoglobins in a double heterozygous state. The clinically important diseases involved, observed in patients in the United States, are HbSC and Hb-beta thalassemia.

HbSC disease is a milder sickling disorder. It is present in 1 in 1100 African Americans. In the HbC mutation, lysine replaces glutamic acid in position 6 on the beta chain. HbA is not present. The RBCs contain 50% HbS and 50% HbC. Anemia is much milder, with Hb levels of 11 g/dL or higher.

Symptoms of HbSC disease are similar to SCD but less frequent and less severe. Splenomegaly often persists well into adult life. Aseptic necrosis of the femoral head is not more common than in SCD. A proliferative retinopathy may lead to progressive loss of vision.

The diagnosis of HbSC disease is made with Hb electrophoresis. The peripheral blood smear may have some sickled cells and a high proportion of target cells. In addition, microcytic, dehydrated, dense RBCs are seen. These may contain crystal-like condensations. Treatment and management strategies are similar to those employed in Hb S disease.

In HbS–beta 0 thalassemia, only HbS is found on electrophoresis. HbA2 is elevated and splenomegaly usually is present. The clinical picture is similar to SCD but is slightly less severe. Management is similar to that for SCD. In HbS–beta+ thalassemia, Hb A is present, usually between 10% and 30%. The spleen is usually enlarged. This disease is otherwise similar to SCD but is milder.

Sickle cell trait is the heterozygous carrier state of HbS. These individuals have approximately 40% HbS and 60% HbA, less so with coexisting alpha-thalassemia trait.

People with sickle trait generally are well and have the following characteristics:

  • Normal life expectancy
  • Not at excessive risk for infection
  • Not subject to painful crisis under normal circumstances
  • No anemia

Nevertheless, providing genetic counseling to prospective parents with sickle cell trait is important. Reports exist of excessive deaths under extreme conditions, such as military basic training involving strenuous exertion; however, this is very uncommon. Similarly, isolated reports exist of organ infarction and crisis under unusual circumstances. Many of these patients lose urine-concentrating capacity. Painless hematuria may be present.

HbS variants may occur as double heterozygotes with other Hb variants. These include HbD, HbE, and HbO Arab. These are observed very infrequently in the United States, and information about them can be found in hematology texts.

Other problems to be considered

Gaucher disease also expands the marrow cavity and causes bone marrow infarction. Unlike sickle cell disease, which causes splenic infarction, Gaucher disease causes splenomegaly.

Depending on the clinical presentation, the differential diagnosis may also include the following:

  • Valvular heart disease
  • Septic arthritis
  • Sepsis
  • Upper respiratory tract infection
  • Aortic arch syndrome
  • Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy
  • Incontinentia pigmenti
  • Familial exudative vitreoretinopathy
  • Lupus erythematosus
  • Macroglobulinemia
  • Polycythemia vera
  • Talc and cornstarch emboli
  • Uveitis, including pars planitis

Differential Diagnoses

 
 
Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Joseph E Maakaron, MD Research Fellow, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, American University of Beirut Medical Center, Lebanon

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Ali T Taher, MD, PhD, FRCP Professor of Medicine, Associate Chair of Research, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Director of Research, NK Basile Cancer Center, American University of Beirut Medical Center, Lebanon

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Emmanuel C Besa, MD Professor Emeritus, Department of Medicine, Division of Hematologic Malignancies and Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation, Kimmel Cancer Center, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University

Emmanuel C Besa, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for Cancer Education, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American College of Clinical Pharmacology, American Federation for Medical Research, American Society of Hematology, New York Academy of Sciences

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

Roy Alson, MD, PhD, FACEP, FAAEM Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine; Medical Director, Forsyth County EMS; Deputy Medical Advisor, North Carolina Office of EMS; Associate Medical Director, North Carolina Baptist AirCare

Roy Alson, MD, PhD, FACEP, FAAEM is a member of the following medical societies: Air Medical Physician Association, American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, National Association of EMS Physicians, North Carolina Medical Society, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, and World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Jeffrey L Arnold, MD, FACEP Chairman, Department of Emergency Medicine, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center

Jeffrey L Arnold, MD, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine and American College of Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Robert J Arceci, MD, PhD King Fahd Professor of Pediatric Oncology, Professor of Pediatrics, Oncology and the Cellular and Molecular Medicine Graduate Program, Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Robert J Arceci, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for Cancer Research, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Pediatric Society, American Society of Hematology, and American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Wadie F Bahou, MD Chief, Division of Hematology, Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Director, Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brook

Wadie F Bahou, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Society of Hematology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Dvorah Balsam, MD Chief, Division of Pediatric Radiology, Nassau University Medical Center; Professor, Department of Clinical Radiology, State University of New York at Stony Brook

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Salvatore Bertolone, MD Director, Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Department of Pediatrics, Kosair Children's Hospital; Professor, University of Louisville School of Medicine

Salvatore Bertolone, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Cancer Education, American Association of Blood Banks, American Cancer Society, American Society of Hematology, American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, and Kentucky Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP Professor of Emergency Medicine, Professor of Internal Medicine, Program Director, Emergency Medicine, Case Medical Center, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Physicians, American Heart Association, American Thoracic Society, Arkansas Medical Society, New York Academy of Medicine, New York Academy of Sciences,and Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Marcel E Conrad, MD Distinguished Professor of Medicine (Retired), University of South Alabama College of Medicine

Marcel E Conrad, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association of Blood Banks, American Chemical Society, American College of Physicians, American Physiological Society, American Society for Clinical Investigation, American Society of Hematology, Association of American Physicians, Association of Military Surgeons of the US, International Society of Hematology, Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, and Southwest Oncology Group

Disclosure: No financial interests None None

Nedra R Dodds, MD Medical Director, Opulence Aesthetic Medicine

Nedra R Dodds, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, National Medical Association, and Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

James L Harper, MD Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Hematology/Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation, Associate Chairman for Education, Department of Pediatrics, University of Nebraska Medical Center; Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Creighton University School of Medicine; Director, Continuing Medical Education, Children's Memorial Hospital; Pediatric Director, Nebraska Regional Hemophilia Treatment Center

James L Harper, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Cancer Research, American Federation for Clinical Research, American Society of Hematology, American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics, and Hemophilia and Thrombosis Research Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Adlette Inati, MD Head, Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, Medical Director, Children's Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases, Rafik Hariri University Hospital; Research Associate, Balamand University; Head of Post Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic and Consultant Hematologist, Chronic Care Center; Founding Faculty, Lebanese American University School of Medicine, Lebanon

Adlette Inati, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Society of Hematology, European Hematology Association, and International Society of Hematology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Ziad N Kazzi, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Emory University; Medical Toxicologist, Georgia Poison Center

Ziad N Kazzi, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, and American College of Medical Toxicology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Richard S Krause, MD Senior Clinical Faculty/Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Buffalo State University of New York School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Richard S Krause, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, and Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Ashok B Raj, MD Associate Professor, Section of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, Department of Pediatrics, Kosair Children's Hospital, University of Louisville School of Medicine

Ashok B Raj, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Children's Oncology Group, and Kentucky Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Sharada A Sarnaik, MBBS Professor of Pediatrics, Wayne State University School of Medicine; Director, Sickle Cell Center, Attending Hematologist/Oncologist, Children's Hospital of Michigan

Sharada A Sarnaik, MBBS is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Blood Banks, American Association of University Professors, American Society of Hematology, American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, New York Academy of Sciences, and Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Hosseinali Shahidi, MD, MPH Assistant Professor, Departments of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics, State University of New York and Health Science Center at Brooklyn

Hosseinali Shahidi, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Emergency Physicians, and American Public Health Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

Garry Wilkes MBBS, FACEM, Director of Emergency Medicine, Calvary Hospital, Canberra, ACT; Adjunct Associate Professor, Edith Cowan University; Clinical Associate Professor, Rural Clinical School, University of Western Australia

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Mary L Windle, PharmD, Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Ulrich Josef Woermann, MD Consulting Staff, Division of Instructional Media, Institute for Medical Education, University of Bern, Switzerland

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Grace M Young, MD Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Maryland Medical Center

Grace M Young, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Molecular and cellular changes of hemoglobin S.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. H vertebrae. Lateral view of the spine shows angular depression of the central portion of each upper and lower endplate.
Peripheral blood with sickled cells at 400X magnification. Courtesy of U. Woermann, MD, Division of Instructional Media, Institute for Medical Education, University of Bern, Switzerland.
Peripheral blood smear with sickled cells at 1000X magnification. Courtesy of U. Woermann, MD, Division of Instructional Media, Institute for Medical Education, University of Bern, Switzerland.
Peripheral blood smear with Howell-Jolly body, indicating functional asplenism. Courtesy of U. Woermann, MD, Division of Instructional Media, Institute for Medical Education, University of Bern, Switzerland.
Effects of therapy with hydroxyurea.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Bone-within-bone appearance. Following multiple infarctions of the long bones, sclerosis may assume the appearance of a bone within a bone, reflecting the old cortex within the new cortex.
A 12-year-old boy with HgbSS disease presents to the pediatric emergency department after his mother tried to wake him for school this morning and noted altered mental status, left-sided gaze paralysis with his head tilted to the left, and flaccid paralysis of the right arm and leg. A CT scan of the brain was obtained immediately.
E. Embolic stroke of the left middle cerebral arterySCD is the most common cause of stroke in children and one of the most devastating complications of SCD. Clinically overt strokes are typically due to embolism of the intracranial internal carotid artery and proximal middle cerebral artery (MCA), while "silent strokes" more typically occur in the smaller lacunar and penetrating arteries. As RBCs undergo sickling and hemolysis within the cerebral circulation, they adhere to the vascular endothelium and promote a hypercoaguable state and fuel thromboembolism formation. Treatment options include prophylactic therapy with hydroxyurea to promote HgbF concentrations and monitoring via transcranial Doppler to evaluate MCA blood flow velocity. Children found to have high velocities are at increased risk for stroke and commonly receive RBC transfusions to decrease the concentration of HgbS.
The spleen enlarges during the first year of life in SCD, as it becomes congested with trapped slow-flowing sickled cells within the splenic sinuses and reticuloendothelial system. The histology image shown demonstrates splenic congestion from sequestered sickled RBCs (arrows). Microvascular occlusions produce chronic tissue hypoxia and microinfarctions. Over time, fibrosis induces autosplenectomy. With functional asplenia, patients are particularly susceptible to infection by the encapsulated organisms Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae. Vaccination and prophylactic daily penicillin throughout childhood are mainstays of treatment to prevent sepsis and meningitis
Splenic sequestration is an important cause of morbidity that occurs when sudden splenic pooling of blood within the reticuloendothelial system causes an acute drop in circulatory volume and shock-like symptoms (hypotension, tachycardia) with a rigid distended abdomen. It is an acute emergency and can be fatal in 1-2 hours secondary to circulatory hypovolemia. Treatment is with volume resuscitation and blood transfusion. The CT image shown demonstrates splenomegaly with a mass-like process (arrows) from splenic sequestration.
. Patients with SCD are also at increased risk of developing pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). The etiology is most likely multifactorial but likely related to increased cardiac output secondary to underlying chronic anemia. Impedance to the elevated blood flow will cause further dilation and increase in pulmonary pressures. Postsickling changes including interstitial fibrosis secondary to vaso-occlusive crisis of ACS and hypoperfusion with resultant hypoxia of the pulmonary vascular beds are both proposed offenders inciting further dilation and elevation of pulmonary pressures. A pulmonary arteriogram depicting the markedly dilated vascular supply of the lungs seen in PAH is shown.
Proliferative sickle cell retinopathySickle cell retinopathy is believed to be vaso-occlusion of peripheral arterioles of the retina leading to retinal hypoxia, ischemia, and infarction. New vessels then form at the junction of the vascular and avascular areas of retina. This neovascularization of retinal tissue and resultant traction of fibrovascularization places patients at risk for vitreous hemorrhage (arrows) and retinal detachment.Another common ocular manifestation is hyphema. Anterior chamber bleeding occurs spontaneously, but sickled erythrocytes obstruct the trabecular meshwork leading to significant elevations of intraocular pressure. Patients are particularly susceptible to glaucomatous optic nerve damage from even mildly elevated intraocular pressures. Pressures greater than 36 mm Hg for 24 hours are an indication for surgical drainage in both SCD and sickle cell trait, regardless of the size of hyphema. Image courtesy of the National Eye Institute.
A 19-year-old man with known HgbSS disease presents because his girlfriend reports his eyes are yellow. He has no complaints. Physical exam is notable for mild abdominal pain, but is otherwise within normal limits. What imaging test is warranted for this work-up? The image shown is of a male child with similar symptoms. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Right upper quadrant ultrasoundChronic hemolysis of sickled cells in HgbSS disease and high heme turnover yields hyperbilirubinemia and is associated with increased formation of bile stones. Stone formation occurs as substances in bile reach concentrations that approach the limits of their solubility. As saturation levels are reached, crystals precipitate, become trapped in mucus, and produce sludge (shown). Over time, the crystals aggregate and form stones. Occlusion of the biliary tree by sludge and/or stones produces clinical disease, typically right upper quadrant pain. The scleral icterus seen in the image of the previous slide is most likely secondary to the elevated circulating levels of bilirubin as a result of an acute hemolytic event (such as an acute vaso-occlusive crisis).
Renal papillary necrosisThe microvascular beds of the renal parenchyma are susceptible to sickling and vaso-occlusive crisis because of their inherent low-oxygen and high-osmolarity state. Depending on the location of occlusion, symptoms vary from a decreased ability to concentrate urine (yielding nocturia and polyuria), a disruption of exchange mechanisms (yielding hyperkalemia) or hematuria, which further damages renal tubules. In renal papillary necrosis, repeated vascular occlusion infarcts the renal medullary pyramids and papillae. This causes sloughing of papillae, which obstructs the urinary tract. Treatment options include hydration, high-dose antibiotics for resulting pyelonephritis, and possible percutaneous nephrostomy tube or invasive retrieval of sloughed papillae in acute urinary obstruction. The intravenous pyelogram demonstrates the "egg-in-a-cup" appearance of sloughed renal papillae (arrows) secondary to renal papillary necrosis.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Hand-foot syndrome. Soft tissue swelling with periosteal new-bone formation and a moth-eaten lytic process at the proximal aspect of the fourth phalanx.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Advanced dactylitis. Lytic processes are present at the first and fifth metacarpals, along with periostitis, which is most prominent in the third metacarpal.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Expanded medullary cavity. The diploic space is markedly widened due to marrow hyperplasia. Trabeculae are oriented perpendicular to the inner table, giving a hair-on-end appearance.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Detailed view of the expanded medullary cavity in the same patient as in the previous image.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Osteonecrosis. Image shows flattening of the femoral heads with a mixture of sclerosis and lucency characteristic of osteonecrosis.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Osteonecrosis. Detail of the right hip.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Osteonecrosis. Detail of the left hip.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Bone infarct. Image shows patchy sclerosis of the humeral head and shaft representing multiple prior bone infarcts.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Chronic infarcts and secondary osteoarthritis. Image shows advanced changes of irregular sclerosis and lucency on both sides of the knee joint reflecting numerous prior infarcts. The joint surfaces are irregular and the cartilages are narrowed due to secondary osteoarthritis.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Osteonecrosis. Coronal T1-weighted MRI shows a slightly flattened femoral head with a serpentine margin of low signal intensity around an area of ischemic marrow with signal intensity similar to that of fat.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Osteonecrosis in the same patient as in the previous image. Coronal T2-weighted MRI shows a serpentine area of low signal intensity and additional focal areas of abnormal low signal intensity in the femoral head; these findings reflect collapse of bone and sclerosis.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Osteomyelitis. CT scan in a soft tissue window demonstrates a large abscess in the left thigh encircling the femur, with hypoattenuating pus surrounded by a rim of vivid enhancement.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Osteomyelitis and bone-within-bone. Bone-window CT scan in the same patient as in the previous image shows a bone-within-bone appearance (concentric rings of cortical bone) in the right femur. On the left, a sinus tract (cloaca) traverses the lateral aspect of the femoral cortex, and a small, shardlike sequestrum is present deep to the sinus tract.
Skeletal sickle cell anemia. Bone scan of bone infarct shows an area of increased uptake in the distal femoral metaphysis corresponding to the infarct demonstrated on the previous plain radiograph.
Table. Schedule of Laboratory Tests for Patients With Sickle Cell Disease
Tests Age Frequency
CBC count with WBC differential,



reticulocyte count



3-24 mo



>24 mo



every 3 mo



every 6 mo



Percent Hb F 6-24 mo



>24 mo



every 6 mo



annually



Renal function (creatinine, BUN, urinalysis) ≥ 12 mo annually
Hepatobiliary function (ALT, fractionated bilirubin) ≥ 12 mo annually
Pulmonary function (transcutaneous O2 saturation) ≥ 12 mo every 6 mo
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