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The patient with sickle cell anaemia 

The patient with sickle cell anaemia
The patient with sickle cell anaemia

Jean-Philippe Haymann

, and Francois Lionnet


June 28, 2018: This chapter has been re-evaluated and remains up-to-date. No changes have been necessary.

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date: 28 January 2020

In sickle cell anaemia (SCA) a single mutation in the haemoglobin beta-globin gene is responsible for a pleomorphic phenotype leading to acute and chronic life-threatening complications. Healthcare management programmes, patient and family education, infection prophylaxis (especially in childhood), and long-term treatment for some patients (such as hydroxyurea) have significantly improved survival, giving rise to some new long-term issues.

Sickle cell-associated nephropathy (SCAN) leads in some cases to chronic renal failure with a significant impact on survival. SCAN is characterized by an increased effective plasma renal flow and glomerular filtration rate, glomerular hypertrophy, and damaged vasa recta system leading to albuminuria and impaired urinary concentration.

Early onset of hyperfiltration occurs in 60% of SCA patients often associated with microalbuminuria. SCAN risk factors are still under investigation, but may be related to chronic haemolysis at an early time point. Other lesions in patients with sickle cell anaemia include papillary necrosis, and recurrent acute kidney injury in association with crises or infections.

ACEI are recommended if there is proteinuria. There is no current agreement on whether angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEI) should be introduced earlier, but systematic screening for microalbuminuria and hypertension, and avoidance of nephrotoxic agents are strongly advised.

Patients with sickle cell trait (carriers for sickle cell anaemia) are prone to microscopic haematuria and abnormalities of the vasa recta have been described. A very rare tumour, renal medullary carcinoma, is largely restricted to this group (in whom it is still extremely rare). Increased risk of other renal problems is still largely hypothetical rather than proven.

The prevalence of nephropathies in other sickle cell diseases (in particular haemoglobin SC disease) is much lower.

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