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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 302-305

Sclerema neonatorum

1 Department of Dermatology, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, New Delhi, India
2 Department of Paediatric, North DMC Medical College and Hindu Rao Hospital, New Delhi, India
3 Department of Dermatology, Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India
4 Department of Neonatology, LNJP Hospital, New Delhi, India

Date of Web Publication30-Sep-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr Konchok Dorjay
Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, New Delhi - 110 001
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijpd.IJPD_12_18

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Sclerema neonatorum (SN) is a rare clinical condition usually seen during the 1st week of life. It presents as hardening of the skin and has a high mortality rate. It is usually associated with congenital anomalies, hypothermia, respiratory illnesses, and sepsis. Defective lipolytic enzymes, a high melting point, and resultant low solidification point of saturated fatty acids of subcutaneous fat, edema of connective tissue septae, and signs of underlying systemic diseases are the various theories proposed for the development of SN. The skin biopsy shows the thickening of trabeculae, sparse inflammatory infiltrates of lymphocytes, histiocytes and multinucleate giant cells, and X-ray diffraction of a biopsy sample of SN shows crystals in affected sites. The systemic corticosteroids have been used by various authors with variable response. Use of exchange transfusion has recently shown good results in improving the outcome of SN.

Keywords: Exchange transfusion, sclerema neonatorum, subcutaneous fat

How to cite this article:
Dorjay K, Dolker S, Arif T, Adil M, Ganju S. Sclerema neonatorum. Indian J Paediatr Dermatol 2019;20:302-5

How to cite this URL:
Dorjay K, Dolker S, Arif T, Adil M, Ganju S. Sclerema neonatorum. Indian J Paediatr Dermatol [serial online] 2019 [cited 2021 Feb 28];20:302-5. Available from: https://www.ijpd.in/text.asp?2019/20/4/302/268388

  Introduction Top

Sclerema neonatorum (SN) is clinically characterized by induration of the skin and subcutaneous tissue, which often starts in the buttocks and thighs and then spreads to other parts of the body. Gray defined it as a condition invariably occurring in the 1st weeks of life, occasionally present at birth, and characterized by the gradual development of sharply defined indurated areas in the subcutaneous tissues.[1] It commonly affects thighs, buttocks, scapular region, deltoid region, and the cheeks. The genitalia, palms, and soles are spared.[2] The skin of the child is cold and stiff. Hence, there is difficulty in sucking, respiration, and body movements. SN is slightly more common in the male with a sex ratio of 1.5:1.[3] SN is now a rare disease, precipitated by prematurity, asphyxia, and hypothermia.[4],[5] The summary of published studies on SN is shown in [Table 1]. For this review, the information was collected by PubMed, Google Scholar, and Scopus search including original articles, review articles, and case reports. The keywords sclerma neonatorum (“SN”) were used for the search.
Table 1: Summary of published studies on sclerema neonatorum

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  History Top

In 1718, Uzembezius used the term “Acute sclerema” for SN.[9],[15] Underwood presented a detailed description in 1784 as “Skinbound.”[9],[15],[16] Andry in 1785 assumed that the “Endurcissement du tissue cellulaire” and “Skinbound” were the same diseases.[16],[17] However, Chaussier in 1815 used the term “Sclereme” for “Endurcissement du tissue cellulaire.” In 1877, “Endurcissement du tissue cellulaire” was replaced by a new term, “oedema neonatorum.” Later, skinbound and “oedema neonatorum” were collectively given the term SN.[16],[17] Bernheimer-Karrer called the condition “Benign Sclerema” in 1922.[15] SN and subcutaneous fat necrosis of the newborn were described as the same disease by Gray in 1926.

  Pathogenesis Top

SN mostly affects preterm neonates in the 1st week of life. It is associated with many underlying conditions. They are gastroenteritis, pneumonia, congenital heart defects, hypothermia, septicemia, respiratory distress syndrome, septic shock, metabolic acidosis, severe malnutrition, transient hyperammonemia of the newborn, intestinal obstruction and therapeutic hypothermia.[5],[18],[19],[20],[21] In a study, Pelet found the low levels of C3 and factor B in sclerema with septicemia in newborn infants.[22] However, after transfusion, these levels became normal. Hence, they postulated defective activation of complement pathways for pathogenesis of SN. The pathogenesis of SN is explained by various theories. Earlier SN was thought to be a sign of grave underlying disorders requiring specific treatment for the same and was regarded as a special form of edema affecting the connective tissue septae causing thickening of the skin.[9],[11],[17],[23] Now, recently two more theories have been proposed.

High melting and a low solidification point of saturated fat theory

The fatty acids in the neonate are predominantly composed of saturated fatty acids, thus having a high melting point and a low solidification point. Hence, they have a tendency to harden at low body temperature.[24] Hughes and Hammond support this idea. They proposed that SN occurs due to circulatory collapse secondary to shock causing low peripheral body temperature leading to hardening of the skin.[14] Elliott argues against this theory.[17]

Defective fat metabolism theory

The second theory ascribes SN to be due to defective fat metabolism. A defect in adipose lipolytic enzymes or in one of the lipid transport mechanisms are believed to be the main underlying factors responsible for SN. Hence, there is hardening of the skin due to defective immobilization of fatty acids from the subcutaneous adipose tissue.[23]

  Investigations Top

The chemistry of the subcutaneous fat of the sclerematous infant was extensively studied by various authors.[24],[25],[26] They found that the oleic acid content was decreased. The crystals seen in the affected fat were shown to be the properties of triglycerides. The X-ray diffraction of the biopsy sample of SN shows that the crystals in affected sites are larger than the normal subcutaneous fat.[27] The epidermis and dermis are normal with sparse inflammatory infiltrate within the fat tissue. The fat spaces are diminished and trabeculae are broadened without fat necrosis.[23],[28] Dasgupta et al. showed subcutaneous fibrosis with lobulation.[6] Many authors reported that if the sclerematous lesion breaks down to form a sterile abscess, such crystals can be aspirated.[25],[29] There is reduced iodine value and a raised melting point of the fat. Based on this finding, Channon and Harrison found increased ratio of saturated to the unsaturated fatty acids.[24] Sweeney et al. found that triglyceride constituted 98%–99% of subcutaneous fat in 6– 7-week old normal infants.[30] In a study, Horsfield and Yardley found that there is a significant decrease in oleic acid contents in subcutaneous fat as well as in dermis and epidermis in SN. A complete sepsis workup should be initiated in all infants with sclerema neonatorum.[27]

  Clinical Features Top

Physical findings of SN appear suddenly, on the thighs and buttocks and spread rapidly, often affecting all parts of the body except the palms, soles, and genitalia. The onset of SN is usually at birth or during the 1st week of life. However, Spohn et al. recently reported a delayed onset of SN in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.[31] The involved skin is pale, waxy, and firm to palpation [Figure 1]. The skin cannot be pitted or pinched up [Figure 1] because it is bound to underlying subcutaneous tissue, muscle, and bone. The affected infant often displays flexion contractures at the elbow, knee, and hip joints; temperature instability; restricted respiration; difficulty in feeding; and decreased spontaneous movement. Newborns may also present with mask-like facies or “pseudotrismus,” an inability to completely open the mouth, secondary to the thickening of the skin over the face, arms, and hands.[4] Pulse, temperature, and respiratory rate are decreased, and there is difficulty in respiration and movement. No seasonal variation or maternal parity was associated with SN.[10] Underwood listed the following pathognomonic symptoms of SN [Table 2].[32]
Figure 1: Generalized pale waxy taut appearance of skin

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Table 2: Pathognomonic symptoms of sclerema neonatorum

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Subcutaneous fat necrosis of the newborn (SCFN) and scleredema are the two other related diseases which have to be differentiated from SN. SCFN affects postmature neonates during the 4 weeks of life as compared to SN, which is usually seen in premature neonates. Clinically, it presents as circumscribed areas of hardness attached to the skin, move freely over muscles and bone, and generally do not spread. It usually appears in healthy neonates. The histologic findings of sclerema neonatorum are subtle, The most consistent findings are edema, a thickening of the subcutaneous fibrous septa, and a radial array of fine, needlelike clefts in the fat cells, representing former sites of fat crystals. The lack of a granulomatous inflammation and the absence of fat necrosis help distinguish sclerema neonatorum from subcutaneous fat necrosis of the newborn.

  Treatment Top

Careful handling of the newborn, proper temperature control, rational use of antibiotics, and fluid and electrolyte correction has improved the prognosis of neonatal septicemia. But still, septicemia is an important cause of neonatal mortality. Recently, steroid therapy and exchange transfusion (ET) have significantly improved the outcome of SN.

Many authors have emphasized the importance of treating the underlying disease.[9],[11],[14] The outcome of SN might be influenced by use of antibiotics. In a study by Bower et al., nine out of 14 full-term infants with sclerema who received antibiotics without the addition of steroids survived.[13] There are other reports, in which improvement of SN with antibiotics has been reported.[12]

Steroids have been used in SN, but with variable result. Cortisone was used in SN by Kendig and Toone with good recovery. Kendall and Ledis gave A.C.T.H. with same dramatic outcome.[32]

Beneficial effect of steroids in SN was proposed by Marks as adjunctive therapy.[33] Levin et al. reported improved outcome in a comparative study in 25 patients with or without hydrocortisone. Shrestha et al. also managed SN with parenteral steroids.[34] Out of 11 children treated with hydrocortisone, remission was seen only in two cases, as compared to controls in which three survived out of 14 patients.[12] Therefore, there is yet no certain evidence to use corticosteroids in SN. Hence, further studies are required. Hughes and Hammond did a review of the literature and collected 16 cases of SN. They also reported three cases. Out of 19 patients, only five survived.[14]

Recently, the use of ET has shown promising results in improving outcome of SN. Xanthou et al. performed ET in two critically ill patients with sclerema. They found good improvement and the sclerema disappeared within 3–4 days.[35] In another study, Sadana et al. found greater survival of babies with premature birth (28- to 32-week gestation) than those born >32 weeks of gestation after ET.[36] The mechanism by which ET works in SN might be due to immunological components, including enhanced humoral and cellular immunity that are provided through ET to the immunologically immature neonates, or by improving oxygen transportation by improving the circulation and shifting the oxygen dissociation curve to the right, correcting hypovolemia, improving hemostatic mechanisms, and removing bacteria or bacterial toxins.[35],[37],[38],[39] Hence, there is increased survival in patients with SN and sepsis when repeat ET is done early during the disease. Park et al. recently found a favorable prognosis of SN in a full-term infant.[40]

Buster et al. recently reported a short-term clinical improvement with use of intravenous immunoglobulin in a patient of SN.[41] It probably helps by increasing both humoral and cellular immunity in the patient.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Gray AM. On the identity of adiponecrosis subcutanea with scierema neonatormu. Br J Dermatol 1933;45:498.  Back to cited text no. 1
Eisenoff HM, Aaron HA, Green FC. Sclerema neonatorum treated with corticotropin (ACTH) report of two cases. J Am Med Assoc 1954;155:905-6.  Back to cited text no. 2
Zeb A, Rosenberg RE, Ahmed NU, Saha SK, Chowdhury A, Ahmed S, et al. Risk factors for sclerema neonatorum in preterm neonates in Bangladesh. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2009;28:435-8.  Back to cited text no. 3
Fretzin DF, Arias AM. Sclerema neonatorum and subcutaneous fat necrosis of the newborn. Pediatr Dermatol 1987;4:112-22.  Back to cited text no. 4
Battin M, Harding J, Gunn A. Sclerema neonatorum following hypothermia. J Paediatr Child Health 2002;38:533-4.  Back to cited text no. 5
Dasgupta A, Ghosh RN, Pal RK, Mukherjee N. Sclerema neonatorum – Histopathologic study. Indian J Pathol Microbiol 1993;36:45-7.  Back to cited text no. 6
Pasyk K. Sclerema neonatorum. Light and electron microscopic studies. Virchows Arch A Pathol Anat Histol 1980;388:87-103.  Back to cited text no. 7
Bwibo NO, Anderson BT. Sclerema neonatorum (a study of 16 cases in the special care unit, Mulago hospital, Kampala). East Afr Med J 1970;47:50-5.  Back to cited text no. 8
Villacorte G, Frank DJ. Sclerema neonatorum. A report of nine cases. Ohio State Med J 1967;63:57-9.  Back to cited text no. 9
Khetarpal SK, Subrahmanyam VV. Sclerema Neonatorum: A study OF 17 cases. Indian J Pediatr 1964;31:8-13.  Back to cited text no. 10
Warwick WJ, Ruttenberg HD, Quie PG. Sclerema neonatorum – A sign, not a disease. JAMA 1963;184:680-3.  Back to cited text no. 11
Levin SE, Bakst CM, Isserow L. Sclerema neonatorum treated with corticosteroids. Br Med J 1961;2:1533-6.  Back to cited text no. 12
Bower BD, Jones LF, and Weeks MM. Cold injury in infants. Brit. med. J 1960;1:303.  Back to cited text no. 13
Hughes WE, Hammond ML. Sclerema neonatorum. J Pediatr 1948;32:676-92.  Back to cited text no. 14
Joncas J. Sclerema neonatorum: Report of an unusual case. Can Med Assoc J 1959;80:365-8.  Back to cited text no. 15
Djojodiguno ST. Sclerema neonatorum (literature review). Paediatr Indones 1965;5:28-34.  Back to cited text no. 16
Elliott RI. Sclerema. Proc R Soc Med 1959;52:1018-21.  Back to cited text no. 17
Zeb A, Darmstadt GL. Sclerema neonatorum: A review of nomenclature, clinical presentation, histological features, differential diagnoses and management. J Perinatol 2008;28:453-60.  Back to cited text no. 18
Lindenberg JA, Milstein JM, Cox KL. Sclerema neonatorum: A sign of transient hyperammonemia of the newborn. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1987;6:474-6.  Back to cited text no. 19
Chisti MJ, Saha S, Roy CN, Ahmed T, Faruque AS, Salam MA, et al. Predictors of mortality in infants with sclerema presenting to the centre for diarrhoeal disease, dhaka. Ann Trop Paediatr 2009;29:45-50.  Back to cited text no. 20
Navarini-Meury S, Schneider J, Bührer C. Sclerema neonatorum after therapeutic whole-body hypothermia. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 2007;92:F307.  Back to cited text no. 21
Pelet B. C3, factor B, alpha-1-antitrypsin in neonatal septicaemia with sclerema. Arch Dis Child 1980;55:782-8.  Back to cited text no. 22
Kellum RE, Ray TL, Brown GR. Sclerema neonatorum. Report of a case and analysis of subcutaneous and epidermal-dermal lipids by chromatographic methods. Arch Dermatol 1968;97:372-80.  Back to cited text no. 23
Channon HJ, Harrison GA. The chemical nature of the subcutaneous fat in the normal and sclerematous infant. Biochem J 1926;20:84-92.  Back to cited text no. 24
Harrison GA. An investigation of sclerema neonatorum; with special reference to the chemistry of the subcutaneous tissues: (Part I.). Arch Dis Child 1926;1:63-84.  Back to cited text no. 25
Harrison GA. An investigation of sclerema neonatorum; with special reference to the chemistry of the subcutaneous tissues: (Part II.). Arch Dis Child 1926;1:123-40.  Back to cited text no. 26
Horsfield GI, Yardley HJ. Sclerema Neonatorum. J Invest Dermatol 1965;44:326-32.  Back to cited text no. 27
Black MM. Panniculitis. J Cutan Pathol 1985;12:366-80.  Back to cited text no. 28
Mcdonald R. Subcutaneous fat necrosis and sclerema neonatorum. S Afr Med J 1955;29:1007-12.  Back to cited text no. 29
Sweeney MJ, Etteldorf JN, Throop LJ, Timma DL, Wrenn EL. Diet and fatty acid distribution in subcutaneous fat and in the cholesterol-triglyceride fraction of serum of young infants. J Clin Invest 1963;42:1-9.  Back to cited text no. 30
Spohn GP, Pietras TA, Stone MS. Delayed-onset sclerema neonatorum in a critically ill premature infant. Pediatr Dermatol 2016;33:e168-9.  Back to cited text no. 31
Wickes IG. Sclerema neonatorum: Recovery with cortisone. Arch Dis Child 1956;31:419-21.  Back to cited text no. 32
Marks MB. Subcutaneous adipose derangements of the newborn. Am J Dis Child 1962;104:122-30.  Back to cited text no. 33
Shrestha S, Chaudhary N, Koirala S, Gupta R. Sclerema neonatorum treated successfully with parenteral steroids: An experience from a resource poor country. Case Rep Pediatr 2017;2017:4836142.  Back to cited text no. 34
Xanthou M, Xypolyta A, Anagnostakis D, Economou-Mavrou C, Matsaniotis N. Exchange transfusion in severe neonatal infection with sclerema. Arch Dis Child 1975;50:901-2.  Back to cited text no. 35
Sadana S, Mathur NB, Thakur A. Exchange transfusion in septic neonates with sclerema: Effect on immunoglobulin and complement levels. Indian Pediatr 1997;34:20-5.  Back to cited text no. 36
Narayanan I, Mitter A, Gujral VV. A comparative study on the value of exchange and blood transfusion in the management of severe neonatal septicemia with sclerema. Indian J Pediatr 1982;49:519-23.  Back to cited text no. 37
Prod'hom LS, Choffat JM, Frenck N, Mazoumi M, Relier JP, Torrado A, et al. Care of the seriously ill neonate with hyaline membrane disease and with sepsis (sclerema neonatorum). Pediatrics 1974;53:170-81.  Back to cited text no. 38
Delivoria-Papadopoulos M, Roncevic NP, Oski FA. Post-natal changes in oxygen transport of term, premature and sick infants: The role of red cell 2,3-diphospho-glycerate and adult hemoglobin. Pediatric Res 1971;5:235.  Back to cited text no. 39
Park SH, Kim SC. Sclerema neonatorum in a full-term infant showing favorable prognosis. Ann Dermatol 2017;29:790-3.  Back to cited text no. 40
Buster KJ, Burford HN, Stewart FA, Sellheyer K, Hughey LC. Sclerema neonatorum treated with intravenous immunoglobulin: A case report and review of treatments. Cutis 2013;92:83-7.  Back to cited text no. 41


  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]

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