Reactive hemophagocytic syndrome in adult systemic disease: Report of twenty-six cases and literature review




To analyze specific clinical findings, underlying disorders, treatments, outcomes, and prognostic factors for reactive hemophagocytic syndrome (RHS) in systemic disease.


Data were collected using standardized forms as part of a French national survey. Adult cases without an underlying malignancy, diagnosed on bone marrow or lymph node biopsy, were included.


Twenty-six cases (7 men, 19 women, mean age 47.4 ± 17.7 years) were studied. Systemic diseases included systemic lupus erythematosus (n = 14), rheumatoid arthritis (n = 2), adult onset systemic Still's disease (n = 4), polyarteritis nodosa (n = 2), mixed connective tissue disease (n = 1), pulmonary sarcoidosis (n = 1), systemic sclerosis (n = 1), and Sjögren's syndrome (n = 1). RHS occurred in 2 distinct clinical settings in the course of systemic disease. RHS was associated with an active infection in 15 patients (bacterial infections, 10 cases; viral, 3 cases; tuberculosis, 1 case; and aspergillosis, 1 case) and with the onset of a systemic disease alone in 9 cases. Isolated RHS occurred in 2 cases. The overall mortality rate was 38.5%. Two factors were associated with mortality: corticosteroid treatment at the time of RHS diagnosis, and thrombocytopenia (odds ratio = 28, 95% confidence interval = 13.3−238.9).


When RHS occurs in the course of an active systemic disease (situation only reported in cases of systemic lupus or adult Still's disease), immunosuppressive therapy should be used. In contrast, when RHS is present concomitantly with an active infection, immunosuppressive therapy needs to be lowered and antibiotic therapy should be instituted.