BACKGROUND:

Growth impairment is a known complication of sickle cell disease. Effects of hydroxyurea (HU) on growth in very young children are not known.

METHODS:

Height, weight, BMI, and head circumference (HC) were compared with World Health Organization (WHO) standards in BABY HUG, a multicenter, randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled 2-year clinical trial of HU in 193 children 9 to 18 months of age. Anthropometric data were closely monitored and converted to z scores by using WHO standardized algorithms for descriptive analyses. The treatment and placebo groups were compared longitudinally by using a mixed model analysis.

RESULTS:

At entry, the z scores of BABY HUG children were higher than WHO norms. After 2 years of HU or placebo treatment, there were no significant differences between the groups, except for the mean HC z scores at study exit (HU: +0.8 versus placebo: +1.0, P = .05). Baseline z scores were the best predictors of z scores at study exit. The absolute neutrophil count, absolute reticulocyte count, and total white blood cell count had significant negative correlations with growth measures.

CONCLUSIONS:

Both groups had normal or near normal anthropometric measures during the study. The HC z scores at study entry and exit were slightly greater than WHO norms. Higher baseline white blood cell count, absolute reticulocyte count, and absolute neutrophil count were associated with poorer growth. The significance of the slightly lower HC in the treatment group at study exit is not clear. Trends toward normalization of weight and height and effects on HC will be monitored in ongoing BABY HUG follow-up studies.

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