Leg ulcers remain a debilitating complication of Sickle Cell Disease (SCD): significant pain, tendency to polymicrobial infection, difficult to heal, and tendency to recur in ~ 50% of patients. According to CSSCD data, 2.5% of 2075 patients had leg ulcers at study entry; overall incidence was 9.97 per 100-person years in patients without concomitant alpha thalassemia (thal), and 5.73 per 100 person years in those with alpha thal.
Hydroxyurea (HU) is an approved therapeutic agent for adults with SCD; it has been shown to decrease frequency of pain crises and acute chest syndrome and decrease transfusion requirements. Recently, HU was associated with a 40% reduction in mortality. There have been reports of an association between HU therapy and leg ulcers in patients with myeloproliferative disorders (MPD) and more recently with SCD. A retrospective study from the Mayo Clinic (
Our data on a large number of patients does not suggest that HU therapy alone is causative of leg ulcers in SCD patients. The supporting evidence for this conclusion comes from our observations that 1) a vast majority of patients (16/17; 94%) who developed leg ulcers after starting HU had a previous history of ulcers. This is also true of the report by Chaine et al, where 4/5 patients with leg ulcers had a prior history; 2) in 6/17 patients (35.3%) ulcers healed with conventional therapy despite continuation of HU. Furthermore, it should be noted that patients with leg ulcers represent a more severe group and are thus more likely candidates for HU therapy. We conclude that HU therapy alone is not causative of leg ulcers in patients with SCD. In addition, HU does not appear to prevent recurrence of leg ulcers in patients with a prior history; nor does it expedite ulcer healing. Other as yet unknown factors, some of which are likely genetic, play an important role in determining the risk for developing leg ulcers.