Hereditary spherocytosis

One of the genetic red blood cell abnormalities that protects against malaria (cf sickle cell), as haemolysis shortens life span and potential for parasite reproduction.

Phenotype (severity) consistent within family, but very different between families. FH may be vague eg splenectomy, jaundice rather than awareness of underlying diagnosis…


Anaemia, jaundice and splenomegaly classically. Splenomegaly is usually mild and there is no increased risk of rupture. Neonatal jaundice can be severe but does not predict severe disease! Severe cases (assessed when well, not during crises, only about 5%) can be transfusion dependent in first years of life (erythropoietin helpful) but not usually afterwards.

May present with parvovirus aplastic crisis (not just red cells; white cells and platelets often drop too) – only happens once.

Diagnosis by spherocytes on film, reduced MCV, high reticulocytes (but retics do not go up during aplastic crisis), unconj hyperbilirubinaemia, splenomegaly. There are other causes of spherocytes, and they can be seen in normal neonatal blood films.

Differential is autoimmune haemolytic anaemia, which is associated with acute viral infection (direct Coombs test usually positive). Osmotic fragility test does not distinguish, can be false negative in iron deficiency, and is unreliable in the first few months of life. New EMA dye binding test takes 2 hours and is 92% sensitive. Gene tests don’t add much.

Other problem is gallstones. High reticulocyte count predicts.

Folate probably only necessary for severe cases.


Most children are asymptomatic, but severe cases can have growth failure, lethargy, heart failure and leg ulcers. Should be delayed until at least 5 yrs, potentially laparascopic and/or partial. Do cholecystectomy at same time if symptomatic. Platelets rise to abnormally high levels after splenectomy, but no apparent increase in thrombosis.

[Arch Dis Child PMID 15321852]