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Hydroxyurea and sickle cell anemia: effect on quality of life

Samir K Ballas1*, Franca B Barton2, Myron A Waclawiw3, Paul Swerdlow4, James R Eckman5, Charles H Pegelow6, Mabel Koshy7, Bruce A Barton2 and Duane R Bonds3

Author Affiliations

1 Cardeza Foundation, Department of Medicine, Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia PA, USA

2 Maryland Medical Research Institute, Baltimore MD, USA

3 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda MD, USA

4 Wayne State University Detroit MI, USA

5 Emory University, Atlanta GA, USA

6 University of Miami, Coral Gables FL, USA

7 University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital, Chicago IL, USA

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Health and Quality of Life Outcomes 2006, 4:59  doi:10.1186/1477-7525-4-59

Published: 31 August 2006



The Multicenter Study of Hydroxyurea (HU) in Sickle Cell Anemia (MSH) previously showed that daily oral HU reduces painful sickle cell (SS) crises by 50% in patients with moderate to severe disease. The morbidity associated with this disease is known to have serious negative impact on the overall quality of life(QOL) of affected individuals.


The data in this report were collected from the 299 patients enrolled in the MSH. Health quality of llife (HQOL) measures were assessed in the MSH as a secondary endpoint to determine if the clinical benefit of HU could translate into a measurable benefit perceptible to the patients. HQOL was assessed with the Profile of Mood States, the Health Status Short Form 36 (SF-36), including 4-week pain recall, and the Ladder of Life, self-administered twice 2-weeks apart pre-treatment and every 6 months during the two-year, randomized, double-blind, treatment phase. The effects of factors including randomized treatment, age, gender, pre-treatment crises frequency, Hb-F level mean, daily pain from 4-week pre-treatment diaries, and 2-year Hb-F response level (low or high) were investigated.


Over two years of treatment, the benefit of HU treatment on QOL, other than pain scales, was limited to those patients taking HU who maintained a high HbF response, compared to those with low HbF response or on placebo. These restricted benefits occurred in social function, pain recall and general health perception. Stratification according to average daily pain prior to treatment showed that responders to HU whose average daily pain score was 5–9 (substantial pain) achieved significant reduction in the tension scale compared to the placebo group and to non-responders. HU had no apparent effect on other QOL measures.


Treatment of SS with HU improves some aspects of QOL in adult patients who already suffer from moderate-to-severe SS.