Multiple Extramedullary Hematopoietic Foci in a Patient with Thalassemia: A Case Report Download PDF

Journal Name : Suntext Review of Case Reports & Images

DOI : 0.51737/2766-4589.2022.050

Article Type : Case Report

Authors : Ma L

Keywords : Extramedullary hematopoiesis; Imaging manifestations; Radiological examinations; Soft tissue masses; Thalassemia


Background: Extramedullary hematopoiesis (EMH) is defined as hematopoiesis occurring outside the medulla of bone. It may be physiologic or occur as a complication of hematologic disorders such as thalassemia, sickle cell anemia and myelofibrosis. EMH usually involves liver, spleen, thorax, and lymph nodes. And it can involve paraspinal tissues with extension and involvement of spinal canal and could cause spinal cord compression, and present with neurological symptoms. So it is essential to be vigilant to recognize and treat such patients to prevent long-term disability. By reporting this case of EMH may help to provide imaging support for clinical diagnosis and enrich the medical cases in this field.

Case Description: The report describes a case of thalassemic patients known as ?-thalassemia with multiple lesions of hematopoiesis, and analyses the imaging manifestations of EMH. In our case, the diagnosis was confirmed by the history of the patient stating underlying hematological condition and by characteristic radiographic findings showing multiple extramedullary hematopoietic foci in the multiple sites, mainly in paraspinal areas appeared as large soft tissue masses.

Conclusion: The possibility of EMH should be considered in every patient with ineffective erythropoiesis. Radiological examination is the preferred examination to detecting the EMH in early stage.


Extramedullary hematopoeisis (EMH), which is defined as formation of blood cells outside the bone marrow, is a rare hematological disease, secondary to insufficient bone marrow function [1,2]. EMH is observed under conditions of myelofibrosis and ineffective erythropoiesis, most common in chronic hemolytic anemias, such as thalassemia and sickle cell disease [3-5]. Decreased or absent globin chain synthesis in thalassemia causes ineffective erythropoiesis [6]. Ineffective erythropoiesis causes the expansion of hematopoietic tissue outside the bone marrow and leads to hematopoietic compensatory mechanisms, mainly in the form of masses in other parts of the body. According to the clinical severity, thalassemia can be divided into non-transfusion dependent thalassemia (NTDT) and transfusion dependent thalassemia (TDT) [7]. Patients with non-transfusion dependent thalassemia (NTDT), a milder form of the condition, rarely need blood transfusions to treat their anemia. However, transfusion independence increases the incidence of EMH as the body attempts to compensate for ineffective erythropoiesis and inadequate red cell replacement. EMH is particularly common in patients with non-transfusion-dependent thalassaemia (NTDT) and rare in those with transfusion dependent thalassemia (TDT). In fact, the incidence of EMH in the former may reach up to 20% in comparison to the latter where the incidence remains less than 1.1%. EMH usually involves liver, spleen, thorax, and lymph nodes, and the paraspinal area of the thorax is the most frequently involved. The present report describes a case of thalassemic patient with common EMH locations encountered in clinical practice, including the liver, spleen, lymph nodes and the thoracic vertebra regions. Unusual presentation as presacral and splenic masses is also discussed.

Case Presentation

A 34-year-old male patient was admitted to the hospital with gouty arthritis which caused the disformation of the left index finger as well as middle finger and swelling of the bipedal joints. He found his uric acid increased at the polyclinic for a routine examination 7 years ago. There was no family history of arthrolithiasis. The complete blood count revealed the following results: hemoglobin (Hb), 54 g/l; hematocrit value, 0.175; mean corpuscular volume, 64.5 fl; mean corpuscular Hb concentration, 308 g/l; red blood cell, 2.71x1012/l; No pathological changes were detected in erythrocyte sedimentation rate or C-reactive protein. Serum biochemical findings were as follows: total bilirubin level, 62.7 ?mol/L; uric acid level, 455 ?mol/L. His blood parameters were suggestive of chronic anemia due to the hematological condition. In order to make a more comprehensive assessment of his condition, a series of examination were performed. The radiological examinations findings were as shown.

Chest Radiography and Hand-Feet X-Ray

There are multiple oval soft tissue density nodules at the anterior ends of bilateral ribs, with smoothly-outlined, clear boundary and uniform density, which the long axis are consistent with the ribs. The X-ray revealed widening ribs, mass lesions superimposed on the parenchyma of both lungs and multiple smoothly-outlined masses projecting from the posterior mediastinum overlying the spine on the lateral view. 

Figure 1: On the chest radiography, expansion in the ribs forming the mass lesions superimposed on the parenchyma of both lungs (black arrow) and multiple smoothly-outlined posterior mediastinal masses overlying the spine on lateral view (black arrow) . On the hand-feet X-ray, expansion of the marrow cavity, thinning of the cortical bone and sparsely reticulated trabecula were shown on the corresponding diseased bones (white arrow).

The corresponding diseased bones of the ribs were local expanded, which the marrow cavity was significantly widened and the trabecula was sparsely reticulated, and the cortical bone becomes thin and blurred. In the left hand and both feet, the corresponding diseased bones were severely osteoporotic, with the marrow cavity significantly widened, trabecula sparsely reticulated and bone cortex thinning. The disformation of the left index finger as well as middle finger could be seen. And several slightly high density nodules were formed in the surrounding soft tissue which pathology had been confirmed as gout nodules (Figure 1).

Computed Tomography

The diploic space in skull was widened, with cortical thinning and the myeloplasm granular. Multiple bones throughout the body were observed cortical bone thinning, marrow cavity widening and the trabecula sparsely reticulating, including the skull, sternum, ribs, scapula, vertebra and pelvic bones, etc (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The CT showed the diploic spaces in craniofacial bones widened with cortical thinning, loose bone resorption and osteopenia. The CT (bone window) demonstrated mutiple bones change with cortical bone thinning, marrow cavity widening and trabecula sparsely reticulating, which were shown in the sternum, ribs, scapula, vertebra and pelvic bones, etc.

Figure 3: CT demonstrated well-circumscribed and smoothly-outlined lobulated soft tissue masses (white arrows) bilaterally in the paracostal region, paraspinal regions of the chest and presacral spine. Generalised rib expansions (black arrows) in keeping with hyperplasia of the bone medulla were noted.

All the bone changes were evaluated as secondary to excessive erythropoiesis [8]. As reported in the relevant literature, the typical craniofacial bones showed the widened diploic spaces in craniofacial bones with cortical thinning, outer table resorption, new bone formation and resultant classic “hair on end” appearance [9]. Multiple subpleural well-circumscribed lobulated masses, which some of these fuse into strips, located at the Para coastal regions with clear separation from adjacent ribs and vertebras. Multiple well-circumscribed lobulated paravertebral masses were seen over the thoracic and presacral spine, with smoothly-outlined and uniform density. Especially there were large masses (Figure 3) beside the presacral vertebra, and the largest was 10.0 x 5.7cm in diameter. The adjacent posterior ribs were expanded, with the cortical bone thinning, the marrow cavity widening and the trabecula sparsely reticulating. Postcontrast images showed the masses to be heterogeneously enhancing. These scans were unfortunately not available to the patient, but the radiology report was. Axial non-contrast CT image of the abdomen showed cholelithiasis and severely enlarged siderotic liver with an average HU of 103 secondary to transfusional siderosis (normal liver attenuation should be approximately 54-60 HU) as well as splenomegaly (Figure 4). If a thalassaemia patient is proceeding to splenectomy, concomitant cholecystectomy can be considered if cholelithiasis is present.

Figure 4: Axial non-contrast CT images of the abdomen show cholelithiasis (white arrows) and severe hepatosplenomegaly as well as severely siderotic liver with an average HU of 103 secondary to transfusional siderosis (normal liver attenuation should be approximately 54–60 HU).

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

T1WI and T2WI axial MR images of head showed thickening of the cranial diploe (Figure 5). The MRI demonstrated severe vertebral marrow hypointensity with cortical thinning and striated vertebral appearances on the sagittal whole spine MRI T1 and T2 weighted sequences (Figure 6). The striated vertebral appearances resulted from preserved primary trabecula and resorbed secondary trabecula [10]. There were multiple well-circumscribed and smoothly-outlined lobulated paraspinal masses in the whole spine, with isointensity to muscle on T1WI and hypointensity on T2WI because of excessive iron in the tissue, and the largest was 10.0 x 5.7cm in diameter beside the presacral vertebra (Figure 7 and Figure 8). The MRI showed severe hepatosplenomegaly and several well-denned heterogeneous lesions on the spleen which were considered of extramedullary hematopoiesis and appeared hypointense on both MRI T1 and T2 weighted sequences, and the largest was 2.9 x 2.6cm in diameter. The liver was markedly hypointense on all MRI sequences, in keeping with iron overload (Figure 9). Although multiorgan siderosis occurs, the liver is the main storage organ. As above-mentioned characteristic radiographic findings and the history of the patient underlying hematological condition, the possibility of EMH should be considered. Further detailed inquiry, we found that the patient was diagnosed ?-thalassemia when he was 2 years old. There was no family history of anemia. On systemic examination he was found to have ochrodermia, scleral icterus and severe hepatosplenomegaly. And the patient had history of multiple previous blood transfusions.