NHLBI expert panel issues guideline on sickle cell disease



The "much anticipated" guideline to help primary care and emergency clinicians improve the management of sickle cell disease includes a consensus treatment protocol for implementing hydroxyurea therapy and more detailed guidance regarding long-term transfusion therapy, according to a summary report published online September 9 in Journal of the American Medical Association.

Sickle cell disease (SCD), a life-threatening genetically transmitted disorder affecting 70,000-100,000 Americans, is associated with a wide array of complex acute and chronic complications that require immediate medical attention. But high-quality data on which to base management decisions are sorely lacking, and clinicians get little in the way of guidance from existing recommendations. One result is that "the two most widely available disease-modifying therapies, hydroxyurea and long-term transfusions, are underused, and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, the only curative approach, has been used in only a small proportion of affected individuals," said Dr. Barbara P. Yawn and her associates on the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute expert panel that issued the summary report.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/National Human Genome Research Institute/Creative Commons License

Sickle cell disease is associated with a wide array of complex acute and chronic complications that require immediate medical attention.

Even this guideline is somewhat rudimentary due to the dearth of good data "in virtually every area related to SCD management," and cannot help but leave "many uncertainties for health professionals caring for individuals with SCD." But it is hoped that this guideline will furnish a critical foundation for future research and will now begin "to facilitate improved and more accessible care for all affected individuals," said Dr. Yawn, director of research at Olmsted Medical Center, Rochester, Minn., and her associates.

The guideline is based on an extensive literature review of more than 13,000 abstracts and articles, which was winnowed to 1,583 original studies regarding SCD. From this, a team of health care professionals in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatric and adult hematology, psychiatry and mental health, transfusion medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, maternal/fetal medicine, and emergency department nursing compiled the guideline as well as the summary, entitled Evidence-Based Management of Sickle Cell Disease: Expert Panel Report 2014 (JAMA 2014 September 9 [doi:10.1001/jama.2014.10517]).

In addition to establishing a protocol for implementing hydroxyurea therapy, the guideline addresses changes in pneumococcal vaccination recommendations for adults and children; annual transcranial Doppler screening coupled with long-term transfusion therapy when necessary to prevent stroke in children aged 2-16 years; rapid initiation of opioids for severe pain during vasoocclusive crises; analgesics and physical therapy for avascular necrosis; ACE inhibitor treatment for adults with microalbuminuria; referral to specialists for screening and treatment of proliferative retinopathy; echocardiography to assess signs of pulmonary hypertension; and monitoring for iron overload in patients receiving transfusion therapy.

Both the summary report and the full guideline are available at

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