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High total haemoglobin levels in homozygous sickle cell (SS) disease are a risk factor for painful crises, avascular necrosis of the femoral head, proliferative sickle retinopathy, and the acute chest; syndrome. Since lowering the haemoglobin level may ameliorate these features, understanding the determinants of total haemoglobin may be of practical importance. A range of possible determinants including red cell characteristics, reticulocytes, serum iron, transferrin saturation, serum ferritin, alpha thalassaemia status, red cell mass and plasma volume, oxygen affinity, red cell survival, transferrin receptor and erythropoietin levels have been measured in 62 patients selected to provide a range of total haemoglobin and fetal haemoglobin levels. There were weak negative associations of haemoglobin with mean cell volume and mean cell haemoglobin concentration, strong negative associations with proportional reticulocyte counts, oxygen affinity, plasma volume, serum transferrin receptors, and erythropoietin levels and strong positive associations with red cell mass. Weighted analysis suggested that the statistically independent determinants of haemoglobin level were alpha thalassaemia, sex, red cell mass/body weight, plasma volume/body weight, fetal haemoglobin and red cell count. The apparent contributions of red cell survival, P50, reticulocyte count, serum transferrin receptor and erythropoietin levels were explained by the effects of these other variables. The independent determinants as a group explained 91% of the variation in haemoglobin level.

Original publication




Journal article


British Journal of Haematology

Publication Date





143 - 149