Cerebral Infarcts in Patients with Sickle Cell Disease
Patients with sickle cell disease are at risk of stroke, transient ischemic attacks (TIA),
and silent infarcts. Stroke may be defined as an acute neurologic syndrome that
results from either vascular occlusion or haemorrhage, resulting in ischemia and
neurologic symptoms or signs lasting greater than 24 hours and shows positive
findings on imaging. In contrast, TIA is an acute neurologic syndrome with deficits
lasting less than 24 hours and no positive findings on imaging. Silent infarcts are
small infarcts, typically less than 15 mm, that are evidenced by MRI as areas of
increased signal on intermediate or T2-weighted pulse sequences, but produce no
Stroke management includes treatment of stroke, prevention of stroke recurrence, and
prevention of primary stroke. Stroke is usually treated by simple or partial exchange
transfusion, although exchange transfusion has demonstrated superior efficacy in
reducing stroke recurrence. After initial stroke management, patients remain at risk of
recurrence if not placed on a regimen of chronic transfusions. In the first 2 to 3 years,
70% of patients will have recurrent stroke; in contrast, chronic transfusions reduce the
Due to the adverse events associated with chronic transfusions, hydroxyurea plus
phlebotomy has been proposed as an alternative approach for secondary stroke
prevention. However, the SWiTCH trial (N = 133), a randomized placebo-controlled
trial, showed that patients who received hydroxyurea + phlebotomy had a marked
increase in stroke recurrence compared with patients who received transfusion +
chelation therapy (ie, deferasirox). In addition, the hydroxyurea + phlebotomy
regimen was not superior to transfusion plus chelation in reducing iron overload.
Primary stroke prevention utilizes transcranial Doppler (TCD) ultrasonography, based
on the work of Adams et al that showed that high cerebral blood velocity, as
measured by TCD, is associated with higher risk of stroke. Data from the STOP trial
demonstrated that TCD screening, combined with long-term transfusion in those
patients with abnormal TCD, significantly reduced the risk of primary stroke. A
recent study in the Créteil newborn sickle cell anaemia cohort (N = 217) concluded
that early TCD screening and intensification therapy (including transfusion for
patients with abnormal TCD and/or stenoses, hydroxyurea to symptomatic patients
with no macrovasculopathy, and stem cell transplantation for those with HLA-
genoidentical donor) reduced the cumulative risk of overt stroke by age 18 years from
11% to 1.9%. However, the 50% cumulative risk of all cerebral events highlights the
need for additional preventive intervention. Specifically, the high cumulative risk
attributed to silent infarcts (37%) underscores that TCD does not screen for the risk of
silent infarcts. In fact, most patients who develop silent infarcts have normal TCD.
The STOP II trial looked at the effect of discontinuing chronic transfusion on stroke
prevention in patients with sickle cell disease and was terminated after 2 years due to
the finding that it was unsafe to stop transfusions in patients who are at high risk of
stroke. Recently, a subanalysis of STOP II looked at the effect of discontinuing
transfusions on silent brain infarcts in the same patient population. This analysis
found that transfusions help prevent the development of silent infarcts in patients with
abnormal TCD: 8.1% of patients in the continued-transfusion group developed new
MRI lesions compared with 27.5% of the transfusion-halted group.
Iron overload is an inevitable consequence of chronic transfusions but may be
effectively managed with chelating agents, including desferrioxamine, deferasirox,
and deferiprone (not licensed for sickle cell disease in the United States or the
European Union). A recent Cochrane review of randomized-controlled trials that
compared deferasirox with desferrioxamine found no statistically significant
difference in measures of iron overload, including reductions in serum ferritin or liver
iron concentration. Significant differences were found, however, in measures of
satisfaction and adherence, with a three-fold higher rate of patient satisfaction and a
six-fold higher patient estimate of likeliness to continue therapy with deferasirox.
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Vichinsky E, Butensky E, Fung E, et al. Comparison of organ dysfunction in
transfused patients with SCD or beta thalassemia. Am J Hematol.
Ware RE, Helms RW. Stroke with transfusions changing to hydroxyurea (SWiTCH):
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Risk of cardiovascular disease and all cause mortality amongpatients with type 2 diabetes prescribed oral antidiabetesdrugs: retrospective cohort study using UK general practiceresearch databaseIoanna Tzoulaki, lecturer,1 Mariam Molokhia, senior lecturer,2 Vasa Curcin, research associate,3 Mark P Little,reader,1 Christopher J Millett, senior lecturer in public health,4 Anthea Ng, research associa
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