Chronic leg ulceration in homozygous sickle cell disease: the role of venous incompetence.


Chronic leg ulceration is a common cause of morbidity in Jamaican patients with homozygous sickle cell (SS) disease. Ulcers heal more rapidly on bed rest and deteriorate on prolonged standing, suggesting a role of venous hypertension in their persistence. This hypothesis has been tested by Doppler detection of venous competence in SS patients and in matched controls with a normal haemoglobin (AA) genotype in the Jamaican Cohort Study. Venous incompetence was significantly more frequent in SS disease [137/183 (75%)] than in non-pregnant AA controls [53/137 (39%)]. Past or present ulceration occurred in 78 (43%) SS patients, with a highly significant association between leg ulceration and venous incompetence in the same leg (P < 0.001). Prominence and/or varicosities of the veins and spontaneous leg ulcers were more common among patients with multiple sites of incompetence. The association of venous incompetence with chronic leg ulceration identifies a further pathological mechanism contributing to the morbidity of SS disease. The cause of venous incompetence is unknown but the sluggish circulation associated with dependency, turbidity and impaired linear flow at venous valves, hypoxia-induced sickling, the rheological effects of high white cell counts, and activation of components of the coagulation system may all contribute. Venous hypertension in SS patients with leg ulceration suggests that firm elastic supportive dressings might promote healing of chronic leg ulcers.

British journal of haematology