Context.—

Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) is a rare, life-threatening disorder of immune regulation that can eventually result in end-organ damage and death. HLH is characterized by uncontrolled activation of cytotoxic T lymphocytes, natural killer cells, and macrophages that can lead to a cytokine storm. The diagnosis of HLH is often challenging due to the diverse clinical manifestations and the presence of several diagnostic mimics. The prognosis is generally poor, warranting rapid diagnosis and aggressive management.

Objective.—

To provide a comprehensive review of the pathogenesis, clinical features, diagnosis, and management of HLH.

Data Sources.—

Peer-reviewed literature.

Conclusions.—

HLH is a condition where a complete understanding of the pathogenesis, early diagnosis, and proper management has an important role in determining patient outcome. Genetic mutations causing impairment in the function of cytotoxic T lymphocytes and natural killer cells have been identified as the root cause of familial HLH; however, the specific pathogenesis of acquired HLH is unclear. The HLH-2004 protocol used in the diagnosis of HLH was originally developed for the pediatric population. The HLH-2004 protocol still forms the basis of the diagnosis of HLH in adults, although its use in adults has not been formally validated yet. Treatment of HLH is primarily based on the HLH-94 protocol, which involves suppressing the inflammatory response, but the treatment needs to be modified in adults depending on the underlying cause and comorbidities.

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Author notes

The authors have no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.