Neurodevelopmental Deficits Among Infants and Toddlers with Sickle Cell Disease

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Neurodevelopmental deficits are among the serious complications of sickle cell disease (SCD). However, few studies have prospectively evaluated neurodevelopmental deficits in very young children with SCD. We analyzed baseline neurodevelopmental data from a cohort of 80 infants and toddlers with SCD to identify primary disease-related events and sociodemographic risk factors associated with early developmental delay.


This is an analysis of baseline date of a 4-year mixed, cross-sectional/longitudinal study. Full-term children at age 3.5 years or younger with SCD (any genotype) were eligible. Neurodevelopmental evaluations (Bayley II) were conducted at ages 9, 15, 21, 30, and 40 months. Demographics, hematologic variables, and medical events were obtained.


Significant neurodevelopmental deficits were evident: 17.5% scoring >2SD below the mean on Bayley Mental Index or Motor Index. Odds ratio of significant developmental delay was >9 times more likely among those who had experienced vaso-occlusive pain episodes, after controlling for socioeconomic status (SES), gender, pneumonia/acute chest syndrome, and hemoglobin concentration. Male gender was also a risk factor for developmental delay.


Early cognitive and motor delays were present in young children with SCD, with higher prevalence among those who had experienced pain crises. Increased vulnerability of male gender is consistent with other at-risk populations but has not been previously addressed in SCD research. Furthermore, these delays are not sufficiently explained by lower SES. Significant developmental delay in children with SCD may go unrecognized by primary care practices, medical specialty clinics, or parents. The importance of routine neurodevelopmental assessment for children with chronic medical conditions is clear.

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