Background: This study was designed to determine the incidence of thoracic bone infarction in patients with sickle cell diseases who were hospitalized with acute chest or back pain above the diaphragm and to test the hypothesis that incentive spirometry can decrease the incidence of atelectasis and pulmonary infiltrates.
Methods: We conducted a prospective, randomized trial in 29 patients between 8 and 21 years of age with sickle cell diseases who had 38 episodes of acute chest or back pain above the diaphragm and were hospitalized. Each episode of pain was considered to be an independent event. At each hospitalization, patients with normal or unchanged chest radiographs on admission were randomly assigned to treatment with spirometry or to a control nonspirometry group. Each patient in the spirometry group took 10 maximal inspirations using an incentive spirometer every two hours between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. and while awake during the night until the chest pain subsided. A second radiograph was obtained three or more days after admission, or sooner if clinically necessary, to determine the incidence of pulmonary complications. Bone scanning was performed no sooner than two days after hospital admission to determine the incidence of thoracic bone infarction.
Results: The incidence of thoracic bone infarction was 39.5 percent (15 of 38 hospitalizations). Pulmonary complications (atelectasis or infiltrates) developed during only 1 of 19 hospitalizations of patients assigned to the spirometry group, as compared with 8 of 19 hospitalizations of patients in the nonspirometry group (P = 0.019). Among patients with thoracic bone infarction, no pulmonary complications developed in those assigned to the spirometry group during a total of seven hospitalizations, whereas they developed during five of eight hospitalizations in the nonspirometry group (P = 0.025).
Conclusions: Thoracic bone infarction is common in patients with sickle cell diseases who are hospitalized with acute chest pain. Incentive spirometry can prevent the pulmonary complications (atelectasis and infiltrates) associated with the acute chest syndrome in patients with sickle cell diseases who are hospitalized with chest or back pain above the diaphragm.