Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome – Causes, and Treatment


Shwachman-Diamond syndrome (SDS) is a rare genetic disorder that primarily affects the pancreas, bone marrow, and skeletal system. It is an autosomal recessive condition, meaning that individuals with SDS inherit a mutated gene from both parents. The syndrome is caused by mutations in the SBDS gene, which plays a crucial role in the production of proteins and the maturation of certain blood cells. The most common features of Shwachman-Diamond syndrome include pancreatic insufficiency, leading to problems with digestion and nutrient absorption, and bone marrow dysfunction, resulting in a decreased production of blood cells. Individuals with SDS may also experience skeletal abnormalities, growth delays, and an increased risk of developing leukemia.

The clinical presentation of Shwachman-Diamond syndrome can vary widely among affected individuals, making diagnosis challenging. Management typically involves addressing the specific symptoms, such as providing pancreatic enzyme supplements to aid digestion, managing bone marrow dysfunction through blood cell transfusions or bone marrow transplantation, and monitoring for potential complications like leukemia. As SDS is a lifelong condition, individuals with the syndrome may require ongoing medical care and support to manage the various aspects of the disorder and improve their overall quality of life.

Pathophysiology of Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome

SBDS gene codes for the SBDS protein. The protein is found predominantly in the nucleolus and is implicated in the normal functioning of ribosomes, amplification of the centrosomes, and in leukemogenesis. However, the true function of the SBDS protein is still unknown. In the pancreas, there is the fatty replacement of the acinar cells, which results in an exocrine deficiency. Cytopenias result in stress hematopoiesis in the bone marrow, which accounts for the elevated levels of hemoglobin F. The exact mechanism behind malignant transformation into acutse myelogenous leukemia (AML) is unknown.  The abnormalities in the hematological system may be absent on initial presentation but can manifest later as part of an evolving process.


Shwachman-Diamond syndrome (SDS) is a rare genetic disorder, and its prevalence is relatively low. The exact prevalence of SDS is not well-established, and estimates can vary. However, it is generally considered to be a rare condition. As of my knowledge cutoff in January 2022, the prevalence of SDS is estimated to be around 1 in 50,000 to 1 in 77,000 live births. It is important to note that these figures are approximations, and the actual prevalence may be influenced by factors such as underdiagnosis or variations in reporting.

Because Shwachman-Diamond syndrome is a genetic disorder, it can occur in individuals of any ethnic or racial background. The condition is typically inherited in an autosomal recessive manner, meaning that an affected individual inherits two mutated copies of the SBDS gene, one from each parent. Given its rarity, Shwachman-Diamond syndrome often requires specialized medical care, and affected individuals may benefit from consultation with healthcare professionals experienced in the management of rare genetic disorders. Research and awareness efforts continue to contribute to a better understanding of the syndrome and may impact prevalence estimates over time. For the most current information, it’s advisable to refer to recent medical literature or consult with healthcare experts familiar with rare genetic conditions.

Symptoms of Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome

SDS can vary greatly from child to child. It can impact several parts of the body including the bone marrow, pancreas and skeleton. Some of the most common symptoms of SDS are:

  • Chronic, greasy, and foul-smelling diarrhea
  • Frequent infections o Poor growth
  • Pale skin
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Skeletal abnormalities, including growth plate changes, rib cage deformities, scoliosis (curvature of the spine), delayed tooth development, dental abscesses, cavities and gum problems

Children with SDS have a higher-than-normal risk of developing blood disorders like myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and leukemia.


Shwachman-Diamond syndrome (SDS) is primarily caused by mutations in the SBDS gene. These mutations result in functional deficiencies that affect various aspects of cellular processes. The exact mechanisms through which SBDS mutations lead to the specific features of SDS are not completely understood, but they are known to impact the production of proteins and the maturation of certain blood cells. Here are key points about the causes of Shwachman-Diamond syndrome:

Genetic Basis:

SDS is an autosomal recessive genetic disorder. Individuals with SDS inherit two mutated copies of the SBDS gene, one from each parent.

SBDS Gene Mutation:

Mutations in the SBDS gene are the primary cause of SDS. The SBDS gene provides instructions for producing the Shwachman-Bodian-Diamond syndrome protein, which is involved in cellular processes.

Cellular Impact:

The SBDS protein plays a role in the maturation of certain blood cells and the production of proteins. Deficiencies in these cellular processes contribute to the characteristic features of SDS, including pancreatic insufficiency and bone marrow dysfunction.

Heterogeneity of Mutations:

There is variability in the types of mutations within the SBDS gene. Different mutations may lead to variations in the severity and specific manifestations of SDS among affected individuals.

De Novo Mutations:

While SDS is typically inherited, in some cases, individuals may have de novo mutations, occurring spontaneously and not inherited from their parents.

Understanding the genetic basis of Shwachman-Diamond syndrome is crucial for diagnostic purposes and can inform the development of targeted therapeutic approaches. Genetic testing is often employed to identify mutations in the SBDS gene and confirm a diagnosis of SDS.

Risk factors of Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome

the risk factors for Shwachman-Diamond syndrome include:

  1. Genetic Mutation: The most significant risk factor for SDS is having inherited mutations in both copies of the SBDS gene. If both parents are carriers (have one mutated copy of the gene), there is a 25% chance with each pregnancy that their child will inherit mutated copies from both parents and develop SDS.
  2. Family History: A family history of Shwachman-Diamond syndrome or a known carrier status for SBDS gene mutations increases the likelihood of having a child with SDS.
  3. Autosomal Recessive Inheritance: Shwachman-Diamond syndrome follows an autosomal recessive inheritance pattern. This means that both parents are carriers (heterozygous) and generally do not show symptoms of the syndrome themselves.
  4. Carrier Status: If one parent is a carrier of an SBDS gene mutation, there is no increased risk of health problems for that individual. However, carrier testing can be informative for family planning purposes.


Shwachman-Diamond syndrome (SDS) can involve various complications due to its effects on different organ systems. Complications can vary among individuals, but some common issues associated with SDS include:

  1. Bone Marrow Dysfunction: SDS often leads to bone marrow dysfunction, resulting in a reduced production of blood cells (pancytopenia). This can lead to anemia, increased susceptibility to infections, and a tendency to bruise easily.
  2. Pancreatic Insufficiency: Many individuals with SDS experience pancreatic insufficiency, which can lead to problems with digestion and nutrient absorption. This may result in malnutrition, poor growth, and deficiencies of vitamins and minerals.
  3. Growth Delay: Children with SDS may experience growth delay and may be smaller in stature compared to their peers. This can be due to factors such as malnutrition, chronic illness, or hormonal imbalances.
  4. Skeletal Abnormalities: Some individuals with SDS may develop skeletal abnormalities, including short stature, abnormal curvature of the spine (scoliosis), and changes in bone density.
  5. Increased Risk of Infections: Due to the compromised immune system, individuals with SDS are more susceptible to infections. Respiratory and gastrointestinal infections are common, and these can be more severe than in the general population.
  6. Leukemia: There is an increased risk of developing certain types of leukemia, such as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) or acute myeloid leukemia (AML), particularly in individuals with severe bone marrow dysfunction.
  7. Liver Abnormalities: Some individuals with SDS may develop liver abnormalities, such as fatty liver disease or liver fibrosis.
  8. Endocrine Issues: Hormonal imbalances may occur, leading to endocrine issues such as diabetes mellitus or problems with the thyroid gland.

How to diagnose Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome?

Healthcare providers will do physical examinations to evaluate overall health. They’ll assess your child’s height and weight to see if they’re growing at the same rate as children their age. They may do the following tests:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) with differential: This test measures and counts your child’s blood cells, including all white blood cells.
  • Pancreas function tests: Providers may analyze samples of your child’s poop or do imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scans.
  • Blood tests to check vitamin levels.
  • X-rays: Providers may take X-rays to look for signs of skeletal problems, particularly in your child’s hips or lower limbs.
  • Genetic testing: Providers identify the genetic mutations that cause Shwachman-Diamond syndrome by analyzing take samples of your child’s blood, skin, hair or tissue to confirm your child has the syndrome.


The treatment of Shwachman-Diamond syndrome is typically supportive and aims to manage the symptoms and complications associated with the disorder. Here are some aspects of treatment:

  1. Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT): Many individuals with SDS experience pancreatic insufficiency, leading to problems with digestion and nutrient absorption. Pancreatic enzyme supplements can be prescribed to aid in the digestion of food and improve nutrient absorption.
  2. Nutritional Support: Ensuring adequate nutrition is crucial for individuals with SDS, especially those with pancreatic insufficiency. This may involve dietary adjustments, nutritional supplements, and close monitoring of growth and development.
  3. Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant (HSCT): For individuals with severe bone marrow dysfunction, hematopoietic stem cell transplant may be considered. This procedure involves replacing the dysfunctional bone marrow with healthy stem cells to restore normal blood cell production.
  4. Treatment of Infections: Due to the compromised immune system in individuals with SDS, prompt and aggressive treatment of infections is important. This may involve the use of antibiotics or antifungal medications.
  5. Growth Factors: Some individuals with SDS may benefit from the administration of growth factors to stimulate the production of blood cells.
  6. Monitoring and Management of Complications: Regular monitoring for potential complications, such as bone abnormalities or leukemia, is important. Management strategies will depend on the specific complications that arise.
  7. Multidisciplinary Care: Given the multisystem nature of SDS, individuals often benefit from a multidisciplinary approach to care. This may involve a team of healthcare professionals, including hematologists, gastroenterologists, endocrinologists, and other specialists.

Prevention of Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome

Shwachman-Diamond syndrome (SDS) is a genetic disorder, and currently, there are no known ways to prevent the condition itself. The risk of SDS is primarily associated with the inheritance of specific genetic mutations in the SBDS gene. However, there are some steps individuals and families can take to manage the risk or address the condition’s complications:

Genetic Counseling:

Individuals with a family history of SDS or those who are carriers of the SBDS gene mutation can benefit from genetic counseling. Genetic counselors can provide information about the risk of having a child with SDS, discuss family planning options, and offer support.

Prenatal Testing:

For couples at risk of having a child with SDS, prenatal testing can be considered to determine if the fetus has inherited the mutated genes. This allows for informed decision-making regarding the pregnancy and can help parents prepare for the potential challenges associated with SDS.

Preventive Care and Monitoring:

Early diagnosis and monitoring of individuals with SDS can help identify and address complications promptly. Regular medical check-ups and screenings can help manage symptoms and prevent the progression of complications.

Healthy Lifestyle:

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, can contribute to overall well-being. Nutritional support may be necessary for individuals with SDS, especially those with pancreatic insufficiency.

Prompt Medical Attention:

Individuals with SDS are more susceptible to infections, so it’s crucial to seek prompt medical attention if symptoms of infection arise. Early intervention with antibiotics or antifungal medications can help manage and prevent severe infections.

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