A 14 year old female arrived at the emergency room with her mother and grandmother complaining of extremely heavy menstrual bleeding. Patient history reported by her mother included a history of “a bleeding problem” for which she had been treated a few times since age 4. Petechiae were noted on the girl’s abdomen, arms and thighs. There was no history of aspirin or other NSAID use. Blood work was ordered.
Patient results are shown in Table 1 below.
The mother called home to ask her husband for details and reported that her daughter had been diagnosed with Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP) 10 years earlier but was not very clear on the treatments. She stated that other than frequent nose bleeds, some petechiae, and occasional bruising that the girl had seemed ok until she started menstruating. They had not seen the specialists in a number of years. Further questioning of the mother revealed that the parents had both immigrated from Iran with their families as infants. The patient was an only child. The grandmother reminisced about the village “in the old country” and mentioned that her daughter and son in law were related, the families being from the same village. When asked about any other family with bleeding disorders, the mother reported that neither she nor her husband had ever met any other relatives in Iran and were unaware of any bleeding tendencies in the family. The grandmother interjected that she did remember that several of her cousins and an uncle experienced frequent epistaxis.
The ER physician noted the normal PT/INR, APTT and slightly decreased platelet count but felt the extensive petechiae and hypermenorrhagia were out of proportion to these results. A manual differential was ordered. Differential results were within normal ranges, RBC morphology reported sight polychromasia and anisocytosis. Platelet estimate was slightly decreased with giant platelets noted. The physician suspected an inherited platelet disorder and the patient was referred to a hematologist for further workup.
I have written a few blogs about different thrombocytopenias. This case interested me because the patient was first diagnosed with ITP. ITP is an autoimmune bleeding disorder in which the immune system makes anti-platelet antibodies which bind to platelets and cause destruction. Even though the exact cause of ITP remains unknown, it is recognized that it can follow a viral infection or live vaccinations. In children this tends to be an acute disease which is self-limiting and self resolves in several weeks. However, in a small number of children, ITP may progress to a chronic ITP, as was thought to be the case in this patient.
A new hematologist saw the patient and reviewed the medical history. In this patient, the diagnosis of ITP had been followed for a short period of time in which the platelet count did not increase. She was treated with immunoglobulin. When her platelet count dropped below 30 x 103/μL, the patient was transfused several times. Early platelet transfusions increased her counts, but the patient became refractory and was then given HLA matched platelets, with some improvement. After a period of time, the patient did not return to the specialist and the parents described her condition as improved. However, as reported to the ER physician, she still experienced frequent epistaxis and other bleeding symptoms unrelated to accidental injury. The mild thrombocytopenia and giant platelets on the blood smear with normal PT and APTT in a patient with abnormal bruising or bleeding alerted the physician to the possibility of the diagnosis of Bernard Soulier Syndrome (BSS). The family history also suggested BSS.
The hematologist ordered further testing. Noted in the patients chart from 10 years ago was a prolonged bleeding time. This test was not repeated at this time because it has largely been replaced by platelet function analyzers (PFAs.) The PFA test analyzes platelet function by aspirating citrated blood through membranes to induce platelet adhesion and platelet plug formation. The test is first performed with a collogen and epinephrine membrane (Col/Epi). If the closure time is normal, platelet function can be considered normal. If the closure time with Col/Epi is increased, then the test is repeated with a collogen and ADP membrane (Col/ADP). A prolonged closure time with Col/Epi with normal Col/ADP closure time may indicate an aspirin induced platelet disorder, whereas an increased closure time with both membranes may indicate a platelet defect that is not aspirin related.3 The PFA closure times were increased in both the Epinephrine and ADP cartridges.
Platelet aggregation was normal with all agents except ristocetin. BSS can be differentiated from von Willebrand disease(vWD) by the addition of normal plasma to the ristocetin agglutination test. The addition of normal plasma adds vWF to the suspension, and in vWD the ristocetin agglutination is corrected. Agglutination with ristocetin requires vWF and GPIb/IX. Since GPIb/IX is absent or reduced in BSS, he ristocetin agglutination is not corrected in BSS, as seen in this patient.3 Flow cytometric analysis of platelet glycoproteins demonstrated reductions in CD42a (GpIX) and CD42b (Gp1bα).
Bernard Soulier syndrome (BSS), also known as Hemorrhagiparous thrombocytic dystrophy, was first described in 1948 as a bleeding disorder characterized by a prolonged bleeding time and giant platelets seen on a peripheral smear. It is an inherited platelet adhesion disorder caused by platelet glycoprotein (GP) deficiencies. The disorder is rare, affecting only about 1 in 1,000,000, though it is more common in families where parents are related. BSS is typically autosomal recessive, though a small number of cases have been found that are autosomal dominant. Most cases are diagnosed at a young age, with the autosomal dominant type often less severe and diagnosed later in life.1
Platelets are involved in primary hemostasis, the initial arrest of bleeding that occurs with vascular injury. As we know, platelets’ functions include adhesion and aggregation. Platelets first stick to the blood vessel wall (adhesion), followed by binding to each other (aggregation). In primary hemostasis, platelets first adhere to von Willebrand factor (vWF) which is bound to the subendothelial collogen fibers. This is followed by aggregation, a complex process that results in the formation of the platelet plug and the initial arrest of bleeding.. In BSS, platelet membrane GPs Ib, V and IX are missing, resulting from an inherited mutation in one of the genes that code for proteins in the complex. This affects the binding of the platelets to vWF, which subsequently interferes with primary hemostatic plug formation.4 If the platelets don’t adhere, aggregation is also affected.
In order to make a differential diagnosis of platelet function disorders, laboratory testing is necessary:
- Tests of secondary hemostasis, PT and APTT, are normal in this patient so a disorder of primary hemostasis would be suspected.
- In this patient, the platelet count was slightly decreased. In BSS, the platelet count is variable, from normal is moderately decreased, and can vary from time to time in the same patient.
- Platelet adhesion tests (PFA) performed with both Col/Epi and Col/ADP were abnormal.
- Light transmission aggregometry revealed platelet aggregation was normal with ADP, collogen and epinephrine. Aggregation with ristocetin was abnormal.
- Giant platelets observed on peripheral smear
- Flow cytometric analysis of platelet glycoproteins demonstrated reductions in CD42a (GpIX) and CD42b (Gp1bα).
Diagnosis: Bernard Soulier syndrome.
BSS is rare and is commonly mistaken for ITP. Reports have been published that analyze cases of BSS patients long treated as ITP. These misdiagnosed cases have been treated with immunoglobulins, steroids, IV anti-D, and other drugs used to treat refractory ITP. Splenectomies have even been reported in some cases. Platelet aggregation to ristocetin and flow cytometry have provided the correct diagnoses. Molecular studies can also be done to identify the abnormal genotype.2 Clues that can lead to a correct diagnosis are childhood ITP that does not spontaneously resolve and does not respond to treatments, other family members with bleeding problems or low platelet counts, platelet counts that are not low enough to explain bleeding or prolonged bleeding times, increased MPV and the presence of giant platelets on the peripheral smear.
This patient was diagnosed with ITP as a child, but treatments did not improve her platelets counts. She continued to have bleeding episodes which increased with the onset of menses. Her grandmother reports a history of bleeding tendencies in other family members. In addition, her parents are related. Her peripheral smears noted giant platelets. Laboratory tests confirmed a diagnosis of BSS.
Bernard Soulier syndrome (BSS) is a rare but important long-term bleeding disorder.
Patients do not require routine prophylactic treatment, so the management of BSS focuses on prophylactic treatment before certain procedures or after injuries. Patients should be advised not to take NSAIDS. The patient should be advised that treatment may be necessary prior to procedures or in response to common bleeding events such as bleeding gums, epistaxis, and menorrhagia. Antifibrinolytic therapy can be used in bleeding episodes. Platelet transfusions are considered for patients before surgery or if anti-fibrinolytics have failed. For severe cases, stem cell transplants have provided a cure. BSS may also be a candidate disorder for gene therapy in the future.1
- Grainger JD, Thachil J, Will AM. How we treat the platelet glycoprotein defects; Glanzmann thrombasthenia and Bernard Soulier syndrome in children and adults. Br J Haematol. 2018 Sep;182(5):621-632. doi: 10.1111/bjh.15409. Epub 2018 Aug 17. PMID: 30117143.
- Reisi N. Bernard-Soulier syndrome or idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura: A case series. Caspian J Intern Med. 2020;11(1):105-109. doi:10.22088/cjim.11.1.105
- Perumal Thiagarajan, MD; Chief Editor: Srikanth Nagalla, MBBS, MS, FACP. https://www.medscape.com/answers/201722-90211/what-is-the-platelet-function-analyzer-100-pfa-100-and-how-is-it-used-in-the-workup-of-platelet-disorders
- Turgeon, Mary Louise. Clinical Hematology, Theory and Procedures. Fifth ed. 2012. Lippincott Williams and Wilkens. Baltimore.
-Becky Socha, MS, MLS(ASCP)CMBBCM graduated from Merrimack College in N. Andover, Massachusetts with a BS in Medical Technology and completed her MS in Clinical Laboratory Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She has worked as a Medical Technologist for over 40 years and has taught as an adjunct faculty member at Merrimack College, UMass Lowell and Stevenson University for over 20 years. She has worked in all areas of the clinical laboratory, but has a special interest in Hematology and Blood Banking. She currently works at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. When she’s not busy being a mad scientist, she can be found outside riding her bicycle.