In sickle cell disease transfusions improve blood flow by reducing the proportion of red cells capable of forming sickle hemoglobin polymer. This limits hemolysis and the endothelial damage that result from high proportions of sickle polymer-containing red cells. Additionally, transfusions are used to increase blood oxygen carrying capacity in sickle cell patients with severe chronic anemia or with severe anemic episodes. Transfusion is well-defined as prophylaxis (stroke) and as therapy (acute chest syndrome and stroke) for major complications of sickle cell disease and has been instituted, based on less conclusive data, for a range of additional complications, such as priapism, vaso-occlusive crises, leg ulcers, pulmonary hypertension, and during complicated pregnancies. The major and unavoidable complication of transfusions in sickle cell disease is iron overload. This paper provides an overview of normal iron metabolism, iron overload in transfused patients with sickle cell disease, patterns of end organ damage, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of iron overload.
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