Background Predicting the severity of sickle cell anemia (SCA) is important for providing better informed genetic counseling and for better targeting of intensive therapies. Stroke is the most severe complication in children with SCA and is predicted by abnormally high cerebral velocities by transcranial doppler (TCD). We attempted to define the risk factors associated with high velocities.

Methods This study concerned the Créteil pediatric SCA cohort, composed of newborn patients, screened and followed at our Center since birth, and of patients secondarily referred to the Center because of the severity of their disease. Time-averaged mean of maximum velocities (TAMMX) higher than 200 cm/sec were considered as abnormal, resulting in initiation of a transfusion program initiated</DEL>. Cerebral MRI/MRA was done after the age of 5 years or earlier in case of abnormal TCD. Alpha </DEL>genes and beta-globin haplotypes were determined. Baseline biological parameters (G6PD activity; WBC, PMN, Reticulocytes, Platelets counts; Hemoglobin, Hematocrit, HbF, LDH levels; MCV; SpO2) were obtained a minimum of 3 months away from a transfusion, one month from a painful episode, after 18 months of age and, before intensive therapy.

Results SS children (390; 189 F, 201 M) were annually explored by TCD (n=2286) since 1992, and followed for a total of 1962 patient-years. The follow-up before initiation of intensive therapy was 1032 patient-years. Nineteen patients experienced an overt stroke. TCD was abnormal in 65 of 390 patients (17%). MRI (n=850) was performed in 268 patients, was abnormal in 86 cases and showed silent infarcts in 67 of 249 patients (27%). Silent infarcts were seen in 33% of patients with abnormal TCD. Alpha genes study, available in 336 patients, demonstrated alpha-thalassemia in 158 patients (47%): 31 had a deletion of 2 genes (7.9%) and 127 of 1 gene (32.6%). G6PD deficiency was present in 26 of 228 evaluated patients (11%). Beta-globin haplotypes studied in 316 patients were Car/Car in 125 (40%), Ben/Ben in 76 (24%), Sen/Sen in 30 (9%) and, “other” in 85 (27%). Univariate analysis showed that the risk of abnormally high velocities was not related to sex, beta-globin haplotypes, pain and acute chest syndrom rates, WBC, PMN, platelets counts, HbF level and SpO2 but was significantly associated with the absence of alpha-thalassemia (p< 0.001), G6PD deficiency (p=0.012), low Hb and Ht levels (p< 0.001), high reticulocyte count (p=0.008), high MCV (p=0.004) and high LDH level (p<0.001). Multivariate logistic regression analysis showed that absence of alpha-thalassemia [OR= 14.5, 95% CI (2.6–79.7)], (p=0.002); G6PD deficiency [OR=6.7, 95% CI (1.7–26.1)], (p=0.006) and, LDH > 1200 UI/L [OR=4.5, 95% CI (1.5–13.5)], (p=0.007) were independent risk factors of abnormally high velocities.

Conclusion This study confirms that the risk of high velocities in patients with SCA is significantly decreased by the presence of alpha-thalassemia. It shows for the first time that hemolysis is a more significant risk factor than the degree of anemia and that absence of alpha-thalassemia, G6PD deficiency and hemolysis are significant independent risk factors of cerebral vasculopathy in patients with SCA.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.