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Hereditary Spherocytosis Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Gus Gonzalez, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
Updated: Oct 13, 2015


As in other chronic hemolytic states, the signs and symptoms of hereditary spherocytosis (HS) include mild pallor, intermittent jaundice, and splenomegaly. However, signs and symptoms are highly variable. Anemia or hyperbilirubinemia may be of such magnitude as to require exchange transfusion in the neonatal period. The disorder also may escape clinical recognition altogether. Anemia usually is mild to moderate, but is sometimes very severe and sometimes not present.

Children diagnosed early in life usually have a severe form of HS that results in their early presentation. Jaundice is likely to be most prominent in newborns. The magnitude of hyperbilirubinemia may be such that exchange transfusion is required. Approximately 30-50% of adults with HS had a history of jaundice during the first week of life. Recognition of HS as a potential cause of neonatal anemia and hyperbilirubinemia and institution of prompt treatment may reduce the risk of bilirubin-induced neurologic dysfunction in these patients.[10]

Beyond the neonatal period, jaundice rarely is intense. Icterus is intermittent and may be triggered by fatigue, cold exposure, emotional distress, or pregnancy. An increase in scleral icterus and a darker urine color commonly are observed in children with nonspecific viral infections. Adults who remain undiagnosed usually have a very mild form, and their HS remains undetected until challenged by an environmental stressor.

Gallstones of the pigment type, resulting from excess unconjugated bilirubin in bile, may be found in very young children, but the incidence of gallstones increases markedly with age. In patients with mild HS, cholelithiasis may be the first sign of an underlying red cell disorder.

A family history of HS may be present, or the patient may report a history of a family member having had a splenectomy or cholecystectomy before the fourth decade of life. A history of family members with cholelithiasis in the second or third decade of life is also a clue to the possible presence of HS.


Physical Examination

Splenomegaly is the rule in HS. Palpable spleens have been detected in more than 75% of affected subjects. The liver is normal in size and function.

Other important clues are jaundice and upper right abdominal pain indicative of gallbladder disease. This is especially important if the patient has a family history of gallbladder disease. Any patient who presents with profound and sudden anemia and reticulocytopenia with the aforementioned physical findings also should have HS in the differential diagnosis.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Gus Gonzalez, MD Medical Oncologist, The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders

Gus Gonzalez, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

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

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Ronald A Sacher, MB, BCh, FRCPC, DTM&H Professor, Internal Medicine and Pathology, Director, Hoxworth Blood Center, University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center

Ronald A Sacher, MB, BCh, FRCPC, DTM&H is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association of Blood Banks, American Society for Clinical Pathology, American Society of Hematology, College of American Pathologists, International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, American Clinical and Climatological Association, International Society of Blood Transfusion

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a speaker or a member of a speakers bureau for: GSK Pharmaceuticals,Alexion,Johnson & Johnson Talecris,,Grifols<br/>Received honoraria from all the above companies for speaking and teaching.

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.

Additional Contributors

Paul Schick, MD Emeritus Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University; Research Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine; Adjunct Professor of Medicine, Lankenau Hospital

Paul Schick, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, American Society of Hematology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


E Randy Eichner, MD Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

E Randy Eichner, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, and American Society of Hematology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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