Hepatobiliary Dysfunction and Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation Increase Risk of Mortality in Pediatric Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis

Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2018 Oct;19(10):e522-e530. doi: 10.1097/PCC.0000000000001684.


Objectives: Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis poses significant challenges due to limited tools to guide clinical decisions in a population at high risk of death. We sought to assess whether disseminated intravascular coagulation and hepatobiliary dysfunction, significant comorbidities seen in critical care settings, would identify hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis patients with increased risk of mortality.

Design: Retrospective chart review.

Setting: Single-center PICU.

Patients: All patients admitted to a tertiary care children's hospital diagnosed with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis from 2005 to 2012.

Interventions: None.

Measurements and main results: Forty-three patients were diagnosed with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis with median age of 61 months. The 5-year overall survival was 51% (22/43). Univariate analyses revealed ferritin levels greater than 10,000 (ng/mL), international normalized ratio greater than 1.5, or platelet counts less than 100,000/µL at initiation of dexamethasone were individually associated with mortality. Development of disseminated intravascular coagulation, hepatobiliary dysfunction, or both increased the likelihood of death in hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis patients (relative risk; 95% CI) (6; 1.4-34; p < 0.05), (4.1; 1.8-10; p < 0.05), and (7.5; 1.8-42; p < 0.05). Of 12 autopsies performed, 75% had at least one active infection, 66% had chronic lymphopenia, 50% had lymphocyte depletion in the spleen, thymus, or bone marrow, 42% had evidence of microvascular thrombosis, and 92% had evidence of hepatocellular injury.

Conclusions: Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis continues to have high mortality with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis-1994/2004 (dexamethasone/etoposide), the current standard of care for all children with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis patients who developed disseminated intravascular coagulation, hepatobiliary dysfunction, or both had higher risk of death with mortalities of 60%, 77%, and 77%, respectively. Phenotypic classifications are urgently needed to guide individualized treatment strategies to improve outcomes for children with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Biliary Tract Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cause of Death
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disease Progression
  • Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Ferritins / blood
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Liver Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Liver Diseases / pathology
  • Lymphohistiocytosis, Hemophagocytic / mortality*
  • Male
  • Multiple Organ Failure / etiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


  • Ferritins