Stroke prevention and treatment in sickle cell disease

Arch Neurol. 2001 Apr;58(4):565-8. doi: 10.1001/archneur.58.4.565.


While the problem of stroke in the patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) has been known for more than 75 years, adequate preventive and treatment strategies are just now being tested. Recent data on prevalence and incidence have been obtained from the Cooperative Study of Sickle Cell Disease of more than 4000 patients with SCD observed in 23 US clinical centers over a 10-year period.1 The overall age-specific incidence of first stroke in SCD (homozygous sickle cell anemia) is low (0.13%) at ages younger than 24 months, increasing to just over 1% at ages 2 to 5 years, with only a slight decrement to 0.79% at ages 6 to 9 years. The risk of brain infarction declines until a second peak is seen at ages older than 50 years, when the incidence again increases to nearly 1.3%. Although intracranial hemorrhage does occur in young children with SCD, the risk is low compared with older children and adults. The Cooperative Study of Sickle Cell Disease reported risk factors for infarction to be prior transient ischemic attack, low steady-state hemoglobin values, and rate and recency of episodes of acute chest syndrome, as well as elevated systolic blood pressure. Risk factors for intracranial hemorrhage included low steady-state hemoglobin values and a high leukocyte count. The burden of cerebrovascular disease is even higher if subclinical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) lesions, presumed to be ischemic, are included. The prevalence of such lesions is more than 22% in patients with SCD, and most of these patients have not reported symptoms, although specialized neuropsychological testing shows lower scores in children with silent lesions on MRI scans. Patients with a history of clinical stroke typically have infarcts in the cortex and deep white matter, whereas silent infarcts tend to be more limited to deep white matter. Common infarction patterns are characterized by wedge-shaped lesions of large-vessel territories; border zone infarctions, particularly of the middle and cerebral artery watershed region; and small punctate lesions of the deep white matter. Fat embolism to the brain and venous thromboses are encountered rarely.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / complications*
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / drug therapy
  • Antisickling Agents / therapeutic use
  • Blood Transfusion
  • Bone Marrow Transplantation
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyurea / therapeutic use
  • Stroke / etiology
  • Stroke / physiopathology
  • Stroke / prevention & control*
  • Stroke / therapy*


  • Antisickling Agents
  • Hydroxyurea