Mutations and polymorphisms in hemoglobin genes and the risk of pulmonary hypertension and death in sickle cell disease

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Pulmonary hypertension is a common complication of sickle cell disease (SCD) and a risk factor for early death. Hemolysis may participate in its pathogenesis by limiting nitric oxide (NO) bioavailability and producing vasculopathy. We hypothesized that hemoglobin mutations that diminish hemolysis in SCD would influence pulmonary hypertension susceptibility. Surprisingly, coincident α-thalassemia (Odds Ratio [OR] = 0.95, 95% CI = 0.46-1.94, P = NS) was not associated with pulmonary hypertension susceptibility in homozygous SCD. However, pulmonary hypertension cases were less likely to have hemoglobin SC (OR = 0.18, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.06-0.51, P = 0.0005) or Sβ+ thalassemia (OR = 0.25, 95% CI = 0.06-1.16, P = 0.10). These compound heterozygotes may be protected from pulmonary hypertension because of reduced levels of intravascular hemolysis, but develop this complication at a lower rate possibly due to the presence of non-hemolytic risk factors such as renal dysfunction, iron overload and advancing age. Despite this protective association, patients with SC who did develop pulmonary hypertension remained at significant risk for death during 49 months of follow-up (Hazard Ratio = 8.20, P = 0.0057).

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