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Congenital spherocytic anemia
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
- Causes, incidence, and risk factors
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.
- Signs and tests
Surgery to remove the spleen (splenectomy) cures the anemia but doesn't 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.
- Expectations (prognosis)
This outcome is usually good with treatment. After the spleen is removed, the life span of the red blood cell returns to normal.
- Much lower red blood cell production (aplastic crisis) caused by a viral infection, which can make anemia worse
- Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider for an appointment if your symptoms get worse, do not improve with treatment, or if you develop new symptoms.
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.
Golan DE. Hemolytic anemias: red cell membrane and metabolic disorders. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 165.
Review Date: 11/8/2008
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and James R. Mason, MD, Oncologist, Director, Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program and Stem Cell Processing Lab, Scripps Clinic, Torrey Pines, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.