Musculoskeletal manifestations of sickle cell disease

Radiographics. Jul-Aug 2007;27(4):1005-21. doi: 10.1148/rg.274065142.


Sickle cell disease results from the presence of abnormal beta globin chains within hemoglobin and may be manifested in anemia, vaso-occlusion, and superimposed infection. The gene that causes sickle cell disease is particularly prevalent in populations of African origin; approximately 8% of African Americans and 40% of the members of some African tribes carry the gene for hemoglobin S. Over time, the disease produces various musculoskeletal abnormalities as a result of chronic anemia; these include marrow hyperplasia, reversion of yellow marrow to red marrow, and, occasionally, extramedullary hematopoiesis. Familiarity with the imaging features of sickle cell disease is important for the diagnosis and management of complications. Ischemia and infarction are common complications that may have long-term effects on the growth of bone; these conditions have characteristic radiographic appearances. Infection may be more difficult to identify. Both infection and infarction may occur in muscle and soft tissue alone, without involving bone. However, osteomyelitis must be diagnosed early and treated immediately to prevent bone destruction and deformity; therefore, care must be taken to achieve an accurate diagnosis by identifying or excluding bone involvement. The clinical and radiographic features of acute osteomyelitis may be particularly difficult to distinguish from those of bone infarction. In that context, magnetic resonance (MR) imaging may be useful. At MR imaging, findings of cortical defects, adjacent fluid collections in soft tissue, and bone marrow enhancement are suggestive of infection.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / complications*
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / diagnosis*
  • Bone Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Bone Diseases / etiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscular Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Muscular Diseases / etiology*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'