Congenital spherocytic anemia

  • Definition
    • Congenital spherocytic anemia is a disorder of the surface layer (membrane) of red blood cells. It leads to red blood cells that are shaped like spheres, and premature breakdown of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia).

  • Alternative Names
    • Hereditary spherocytosis; Spherocytosis; Hemolytic anemia - spherocytic

  • Causes
    • This disorder is caused by a defective gene. The defect results in an abnormal red blood cell membrane. The affected cells have a smaller surface area for their volume than normal red blood cells, and can break open easily. Having a family history of spherocytosis increases the risk for this disorder.

      The anemia can vary from mild to severe. In severe cases the disorder may be found in early childhood. In mild cases it may go unnoticed until adulthood.

      This disorder is most common in people of northern European descent, but it has been found in all races.

  • Symptoms
  • Exams and Tests
  • Treatment
    • Surgery to remove the spleen (splenectomy) cures the anemia but does not correct the abnormal cell shape.

      Families with a history of spherocytosis should have their children screened for this disorder.

      Children should wait until age 5 to have splenectomy because of the infection risk. In mild cases discovered in adults, it may not be necessary to remove the spleen.

      Children and adults should be given a pneumococcal vaccine before spleen removal surgery. They also should receive folic acid supplements. Additional vaccines may be needed based on the person's history.

  • Outlook (Prognosis)
    • This outcome is usually good with treatment. After the spleen is removed, the life span of the red blood cell returns to normal.

  • Possible Complications
    • Complications may include:

      • Gallstones
      • Much lower red blood cell production (aplastic crisis) caused by a viral infection, which can make anemia worse
  • When to Contact a Medical Professional
    • Call your health care provider if:

      • Your symptoms get worse.
      • Your symptoms do not improve with new treatment.
      • You develop new symptoms.
  • Prevention
    • This is an inherited disorder and may not be preventable. Being aware of your risk, such as a family history of the disorder, may help you get diagnosed and treated early.

  • References
    • Gallagher PG. Red blood cell membrane disorders. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ Jr, Silberstein LE, Heslop HE, Weitz JI, Anastasi J, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2013:chap 43.

      Klatt EC, Kumar V. Hematopathology of red blood cells and bleeding disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 14.