In clinical studies, frequent hepatic dysfunction associated with crises in sickle cell disease has been noted, but whether irreversible morphologic changes arise from these transient episodes is uncertain. We studied 70 patients with sickle cell disease (57 SS, 12 SC and one S-thalassemia (S-thal) hemoglobin) autopsied at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. They ranged in age from five months to 75 years (average 21 years) and 35 (50 percent) were female. In 64 patients (91 percent), livers were enlarged and had distention of Kupffer cells with phagocytized sickled red cells; this was massive in 10. In 19 patients (27 percent) the sinusoids were markedly distended with sickled red cells and appeared obstructed. Focal parenchymal necroses were present in 24 patients (34 percent) and were explained in 12, eight by cardiac dysfunction and four by sepsis. Reparative changes, portal fibrosis and regenerative nodules were each found in 14 patients (20 percent), only one of whom had a known history of viral hepatitis despite the frequency of transfusions. Cirrhosis of unknown cause was present in seven patients and cardiac cirrhosis in one. Cirrhosis with hemochromatosis was present in three patients and 30 others had parenchymal iron accumulation. Thus, unexplained hepatic necroses, portal fibrosis, regenerative nodules and cirrhosis were frequently encountered in these patients. This spectrum of liver disease appears to be best understood as a consequence of recurrent vascular obstruction, necrosis and repair arising as a component of sickle cell disease.
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