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Bronchoalveolar lavage in adult sickle cell patients with acute chest syndrome: value for diagnostic assessment of fat embolism.

Fat embolism of necrotic bone marrow could be a frequent cause of acute chest syndrome (ACS) in sickle cell syndromes (SC), as suggested by postmortem findings. To check this hypothesis in living patients, we evaluated the presence of fatty macrophages recovered by bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) in ACS. We investigated 20 consecutive cases of ACS by BAL, and identification of alveolar cells containing fat droplets was performed using oil red O (ORO), a specific neutral fat stain. The specificity of the method was determined on control groups, including eight SC patients without acute chest syndrome and 15 non-SC patients. A cut-off of > 5% of alveolar macrophages containing fat droplets was determined from the control groups to assess the diagnosis of fat embolism. In 12 ACS episodes, BAL exhibited > 5% of fatty macrophages, ranging from 10% to 100% (median value 46.5%). In 11 cases, fat embolism was associated with proven (n = 8) or probable (n = 3) bone marrow infraction, which mostly predated ACS. Eight ACS episodes were associated with a low percentage (< or = 5%) of fatty alveolar macrophages and could be related to a cause other than fat embolism in six episodes, such as sepsis, in-situ thrombosis, or rib infarcts generating hypoventilation. This study supports the diagnostic yield of BAL for fat embolism, which can be incriminated in 60% of cases of ACS in this adult population.

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