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Swiss Med Wkly. 2002 May 4;132(17-18):230-6.

Reactive macrophage activation syndrome: a simple screening strategy and its potential in early treatment initiation.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland.



starting treatment of reactive macrophage activation syndromes as early as possible (rMAS, haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis), e.g., with intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIG), seems to be essential for optimal outcome. However, there is no diagnostic gold standard which reliably indicates need for early treatment. We used a simple screening strategy consisting of serum ferritin measurements and/or morphological assessment of haemophagocytosis and compared the studied patient population with published series.


Retrospective analysis of clinical and laboratory data of 57 patients experiencing 60 episodes of rMAS.


Screening by serum ferritin measurements and/or morphological assessment of haemophagocytosis of patients presenting with a systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) indicates that rMAS might be considerably more frequent than stated in the literature. Serum ferritin exceeded >10,000 microg/L in 91% rMAS episodes. Although the patient population studied was otherwise similar in most aspects to the published rMAS series, the fact that 40% of patients fulfilled the criteria for Still's disease (SD) as the disorder underlying rMAS is remarkable and questions the distinct nature of the two diseases. IVIG responders and non-responders did not differ regarding their initial characteristics with exception to the timepoint of IVIG administration, confirming the importance of early treatment initiation. Malignancy-associated rMAS however, has a poor prognosis and seems to be refractory to manipulation with IVIG in most instances, even when responding initially.


rMAS has to be considered in patients with a SIRS- or SD-like clinical presentation. Hyperferritinaemia >or=10,000 microg/l seems to be a good marker for defining patients with or at risk for developing rMAS and should be completed with a morphological assessment of haemophagocytosis. The perception of acute SD and rMAS as two distinct entities has to be questioned at least in a subgroup of patients.

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