Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria is a rare disease in which red blood cells break down earlier than normal.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Persons with this disease have blood cells that are missing a gene called PIG-A. This gene allows a substance called glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol (GPI) to help certain proteins stick to cells.
Without PIG-A, important proteins cannot connect to the cell surface and protect the cell from substances in the blood called complement. As a result, red blood cells break down too early. The red cells leak hemoglobin into the blood, which can pass into the urine. This can happen at any time, but is more likely to occur during the night or early morning.
Steroids or other drugs that suppress the immune system may help slow the break down of red blood cells. Blood transfusions may be needed. Supplemental iron and folic acid are provided. Blood thinners may also be needed to prevent clot formation.
Soliris (eculizumab) is a drug used to treat PNH. It blocks the breakdown of red blood cells.
Bone marrow transplantation can cure this disease.
All patients with PNH should receive vaccinations against certain types of bacteria to prevent infection. Ask your doctor which ones are right for you.
The outcome varies. Most people survive greater than 10 years after their diagnosis. Death can result from complications such as blood clot formation (thrombosis) or bleeding.
In rare cases, the abnormal cells may decrease over time.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and James R. Mason, MD, Oncologist, Director, Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program and Stem Cell Processing Lab, Scripps Clinic, Torrey Pines, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.