J Clin Med. 2020 Nov 8;9(11):E3601. doi: 10.3390/jcm9113601.
Fat embolism syndrome is a devastating complication of sickle cell disease resulting from extensive bone marrow necrosis and associated with high mortality rates, while survivors often suffer severe neurological sequelae. Despite that, the syndrome remains under-recognised and under-diagnosed. Paradoxically, it affects exclusively patients with mild forms of sickle cell disease, predominantly HbSC and HbSβ+. A significant number of cases occur in the context of human parvovirus B19 infection. We provide here a brief summary of the existing literature and describe our experience treating 8 patients in our institution. One patient had HbSS, 6 HbSC and 1 HbSβ+. All patients developed type I respiratory failure and neurological involvement either at presentation or within the first 72 h. The most striking laboratory abnormality was a 100-fold increase of the serum ferritin from baseline. Seven patients received emergency red cell exchange and 1 simple transfusion. Two patients (25%) died, 2 patients (25%) suffered severe neurological impairment and 1 (12%) mild neurological impairment on discharge, while 3 (38%) patients made a complete recovery. With long-term follow-up, 1 patient with severe neurological impairment and one patient with mild neurological impairment made dramatic improvements, making the long-term complete recovery or near complete recovery rate 63%. Immediate red cell exchange transfusion can be lifesaving and should be instituted as soon as the syndrome is suspected. However, as the outcomes remain unsatisfactory despite the increasing use of red cell exchange, we suggest additional therapeutic measures such as therapeutic plasma exchange and pre-emptive transfusion for high risk patients.