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Asthma and sickle cell disease: two distinct diseases or part of the same process?

Joshua J Field, Michael R DeBaun
Hematology—the Education Program of the American Society of Hematology 2009, : 45-53
A physician diagnosis of asthma in children and adults with sickle cell disease (SCD) has been associated with increased rates of pain and acute chest syndrome (ACS) episodes and premature death. Despite the clinical significance of a doctor's diagnosis of asthma in individuals with SCD, the criteria for a physician diagnosis of asthma are not well defined. Many features of asthma are common in individuals with SCD, including symptoms of wheezing, obstructive lung disease and airway hyper-responsiveness. However, it is not clear if these signs and symptoms of asthma reflect a physician diagnosis of asthma, or if these asthma features are related to SCD. Further complicating the diagnosis of asthma in children with SCD is the significant overlap in clinical manifestations between an asthma exacerbation and an ACS episode. Evidence supporting the concept that asthma and SCD are separate co-morbid conditions includes a similar prevalence of asthma between children with SCD and those in the general population and the observation that asthma is inherited in a familial pattern in the families of children with SCD. In contrast, there is significant evidence that asthma-like features may be associated with SCD without a diagnosis of asthma, including a higher than expected prevalence of airway hyper-responsiveness and obstructive lung disease. Regardless of whether SCD and asthma are distinct or overlapping co-morbid conditions, we recommend a systematic and complete evaluation of asthma when the diagnosis is suspected or when patients have multiple episodes of pain or ACS.


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