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Evaluation of clinical pallor in the identification and treatment of children with moderate and severe anaemia

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background Anaemia from malaria is a common problem in developing countries. Blood transfusion in developing countries is available in few hospitals. Children who are severely anaemic and may require urgent blood transfusion usually present to peripheral first-level health facilities from where they must be referred to hospitals. Since most peripheral facilities do not determine haemoglobin levels, the decision on referral has to be made on clinical grounds.

objectives To evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of clinical pallor of the palms, nailbeds, conjunctivae, buccal mucosa or tongue against haemoglobin values and their reproducibility among health workers.

methods A total of 2540 children 2 months to 5 years of age presenting to a rural health centre in Ethiopia were enrolled. Clinically detected pallor was compared with measured blood haemoglobin concentrations.

results Any anaemia (haemoglobin < 11 g/dl) was found in 61% of the children. Severe anaemia (haemoglobin < 5 g/dl) was found in 4%. The presence of any pallor clinically correlated with moderate anaemia (haemoglobin level < 8 g/dl) could be detected with a sensitivity of 95% and a specificity of 64–68% when the palm and nailbeds were used and a sensitivity of 84% and a specificity of 81% when the conjunctivae were used. Severe anaemia was detected clinically as severe pallor in 50–56% of cases (with a specificity of 95–96%). Agreement between physicians was highest for conjunctivae and nailbed pallor (87%) and lowest for palm pallor (73%). Using multivariate analysis, identification of a systolic ejection murmur or altered sensorium, the presence of splenomegaly or malarial parasitaemia were independently predictive of severe and moderately severe anaemia.

conclusions Moderate and severe anaemia can be identified clinically in most cases for treatment and referral purposes. A systolic ejection murmur, altered sensorium, the presence of splenomegaly or malarial parasitaemia may be used as additional tools in considering urgent referral for blood transfusion.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2000-11-01

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