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Ophthalmology. 1997 Oct;104(10):1610-5.

Orbital compression syndrome in sickle cell disease.

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  • 1Department of Ophthalmology, University of Tennessee, Memphis, USA.



Orbital complications are an uncommonly reported finding in sickle cell disease.


The authors review the reported orbital manifestations of sickle cell disease and discuss a patient with hemoglobin sickle beta(0) thalassemia in whom rapidly progressive bilateral orbital compression developed.


Computed tomography of the orbits in a patient with fever, headache, orbital swelling, and optic nerve dysfunction displayed bilateral superior subperiosteal cystic masses. Surgical exploration showed bilateral liquefied hematomas, which were evacuated. Recovery was complete 13 days after surgery. A mild recurrence 14 months later resolved with conservative treatment. The literature contains 11 reports of 16 young patients with sickle cell disease (15 sickle cell disease [Hb SS] and 1 hemoglobin sickle cell disease [Hb SC]) with rapidly developing findings ranging from frontal headache, fever, and eyelid edema to bilateral complete orbital compression syndrome. Including our patient, 60% had orbital hemorrhage on computed tomography. Ten of 12 patients tested were found to have orbital bone marrow infarctions. Sixteen of 17 patients had complete recovery; 13 were treated conservatively and 4 surgically. Only 2 of 17 had recurrence.


Orbital complications in sickle cell disease are unusual manifestations in which a vaso-occlusive process in the marrow space around the orbit results in frontal headache, fever, eyelid edema, and often orbital compression syndrome. Subperiosteal hematomas are common and appear to result from bone marrow infarctions. Appropriate management requires a thorough evaluation to exclude other hemorrhagic, infectious or neoplastic processes, as well as vigilant ophthalmic monitoring. Supportive care is effective, unless optic nerve dysfunction or large hematomas are present, which would indicate that surgical evacuation is warranted to prevent loss of vision and to speed recovery.

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