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Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2016 Apr;71(4):205-9. doi: 10.6061/clinics/2016(04)05.

Clinical presentation of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis in adults is less typical than in children.

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Department of Hematology, The Second Hospital of Shandong University, Jinan, China.
Department of Hematology, Linyi People's Hospital, Linyi, China.
Center of Evidence-based Medicine, Shandong University, Jinan, China.
Clinical Pharmacology Unit, Department of Medicine-Solna, Karolinska Institutet at Karolinska University Hospital (Solna), Stockholm, Sweden.



Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis in adults is largely underdiagnosed. To improve the rate and accuracy of diagnosis in adults, the clinical and laboratory characteristics of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis were analyzed in and compared between adults and children in a Chinese cohort.


Data from 50 hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis patients, including 34 adults and 16 children who fulfilled the 2004 hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis diagnostic criteria, were collected and analyzed.


1. Etiological factors: The proportion of Epstein-Barr virus infection was lower in adults compared with children, whereas fungal infection and natural killer/T cell lymphoma were more frequent in adults (P<0.05). 2. Clinical manifestations and laboratory findings: Over 90% of adults and pediatric patients presented with fever, thrombocytopenia and high serum ferritin levels. However, in adults, the proportions of hepatomegaly, splenomegaly and jaundice were much lower (P<0.01) than in children, and serous cavity effusion was more frequent in adult patients (P<0.05). More children had hemoglobin <90 g/L, total bilirubin >19 mmol/L and lactate dehydrogenase >500 U/L compared with adults (P<0.05). 3. The time interval from the onset of symptoms to clinical diagnosis was significantly shorter in pediatric patients than in adults (P<0.05).


Certain clinical features were different between the two groups. The less characteristic clinical presentation of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis in adults may make the disease more difficult to diagnose. Our findings suggest that hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis should be considered when an adult patient presents with the above-mentioned symptoms.

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