Background Irregular, sporadic episodes of ischemic brain injury are known to occur in sickle cell anemia (SCA), resulting in overt stroke and silent cerebral infarction. Ongoing ischemia in other organs is common in SCA but has never been documented in the brain.
Objective To test the hypothesis that acute silent cerebral ischemic events (ASCIEs) are frequent and potentially transient.
Design Cross-sectional and cohort study of children with SCA screened by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain for a randomized clinical trial.
Setting Clinical trial setting in tertiary care centers.
Patients Asymptomatic children with SCA without known stroke, neurologic injury, or epilepsy not receiving treatment with transfusions or hydroxyurea.
Main Outcome Measure Incidence of ASCIEs calculated using single diffusion-weighted MRI scans (acute ischemic events that occurred within 10 days of the MRI).
Results Acute silent cerebral ischemic events were detected on 1.3% of MRIs (10 of 771) in 652 children (mean age, 10.0 years), with an incidence of 47.3 events per 100 patient-years (95% CI, 22.7-87.2). Two of 10 children with ASCIEs had follow-up MRIs of the brain; only 1 had silent cerebral infarction in the same location as the previously detected ASCIE.
Conclusions Children with SCA experience ongoing (chronic, intermittent) cerebral ischemia, sometimes reversible, far more frequently than previously recognized. The brain in SCA is at constant threat of ischemia.