September 19, 1997 in Nation/World

Transfusions Help Sickle Cell Victims Monthly Blood Transfusions Can Cut Stroke Risk With Side Effect

Associated Press

Monthly blood transfusions can cut the high risk of strokes for children with severe sickle cell anemia by 90 percent, says new research so compelling that the National Institutes of Health notified hundreds of doctors Thursday.

But there is also a warning: Probably all the estimated 2,500 high-risk children who get the transfusions will develop a toxic side effect that requires painful, expensive treatment.

“It’s a difficult tradeoff,” acknowledged Dr. Claude Lenfant, director of the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which paid for the study. But “stroke is among the most devastating complications of this disease, affecting a child’s ability to move, speak and learn.”

The study, headed by Dr. Robert Adams of the Medical College of Georgia, offers the first stroke protection for children with sickle cell. The results were so dramatic that NIH stopped the study 16 months early - and recommended that all children with the inherited blood disease get sophisticated brain scans to find the ones at highest risk who may need transfusions.

About 72,000 Americans have sickle cell anemia, an inherited disease that strikes mostly blacks. Hemoglobin clumps inside red blood cells, changing the normally round cells into a sickle shape that can’t squeeze through tiny blood vessels. Patients typically live only into their 40s.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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