Pulmonary hypertension (PHT) has emerged as a frequent cause of increased morbidity and mortality in adults with sickle cell disease (SCD). However, the incidence, prevalence and etiology of PHT in children with SCD are currently unknown. An elevated tricuspid regurgitant jet velocity (TRJV) ≥ 2.5 m/sec on Doppler echocardiogram (ECHO) in adults may predict PHT usually diagnosed by traditional cardiac catheterization. We hypothesized that routinely measuring TRJV in children and young adults with SCD was feasible and that TRJV correlated with degree of baseline hemolysis.

Methods Using a standard protocol, we prospectively measured steady state TRJV in a convenience, cross-sectional sample of 43 patients (mean age 14.2±2.8 years, range 10 to 20) with hemoglobin (Hb) SS, SC or S-β0 thalassemia at our institution as part of a PHT screening initiative beginning December 2005. Patients on chronic transfusions were excluded. The relationship between TRJV and same day laboratory studies and clinical data obtained from patient charts was examined.

Results TRJV was not measurable in 5 of 43 (12%) patients, due presumably to normal pulmonary artery systolic pressures. Neither right ventricular hypertrophy nor decreased septal wall motion, both suggestive of PHT, was present when TRJV could not be determined. In the remaining 38 studies in which TRJV could be quantified (mean 2.34 m/sec±0.44), TRJV was ≥ 2.5 m/sec in 13 patients. Using Pearson’s correlation coefficient, we found a significant correlation between TRJV and LDH (r=0.54, p=0.01), with higher TRJV associated with higher LDH. There were also significant, though more modest, positive correlations between TRJV and WBC (r=0.37, p=0.05) and reticulocyte count (r=0.40, p=0.05) and a significant negative correlation between TRJV and Hb (r= -0.46, p=0.01). Using t-test for independent samples, we found a significant difference in mean LDH (458 IU/L±192 vs. 338 IU/L±144, p=0.037), Hb (8.7 g/dL±1.3 vs. 10.2 g/dL±1.6, p=0.008) and reticulocyte count (17.3%±10.3 vs. 10.7%±6.9, p=0.027) between patients with TRJV ≥ 2.5 and <2.5 m/sec. A difference approaching significance in total WBC (11.4 x103/μL±5.3 vs. 8.3 x103/μL ±3.2, p=0.075) was also observed between the two groups. We found neither a significant difference in mean values between the two groups nor significant relationships with TRJV when we examined platelet count, plasma free Hb, percent fetal Hb or total bilirubin. Using Fisher’s Exact Test, we did not demonstrate in our small cohort a difference in the proportion of patients with TRJV ≥ 2.5 or < 2.5 m/sec who had a history of hydroxyurea use, acute chest syndrome, frequent pain, asthma, splenectomy, gallstones, priapism, exchange transfusion, heart disease or tonsilloadenoidectomy.

Conclusions We conclude that TRJV by ECHO is quantifiable in most children and young adults being evaluated for PHT and that a higher LDH and reticulocyte count and a lower Hb at baseline are observed more frequently with elevated TRJV. Larger cohort studies are needed to test the predictive value of one or more of these markers of hemolysis. Although long term outcomes associated with elevated TRJV, as an indication of PHT, in children with SCD remains unclear, decreasing hemolysis in this population may represent an early therapeutic target in the prevention of future clinically significant PHT.

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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