What is the significance of teardrop cells (dacrocytes) on the peripheral smear of my patient with newly-discovered pancytopenia?

The presence of teardrop cells (dacrocytes) (Figure below) in the peripheral blood, named for their tear drop shape, is a prominent feature of myelophthisic (marrow infiltrative) conditions, including myelofibrosis, hematologic malignancies, cancer metastatic to the bone marrow, and granulomatous diseases. Teardrop cells may also be seen in beta-thalassemia, autoimmune and microangiopathic hemolytic anemia and severe iron deficiency (1-4).

When evaluating patients with leucoerythroblastic smears (defined by the presence of early myeloid and erythroid forms), the presence of teardrop cells can be helpful in distinguishing often malignant marrow infiltrative conditions from a benign reactive process.  Conditions where teardrop cells are seen with high frequency may also have extramedullary hematopoiesis, particularly in the spleen (1,2).

The mechanism of tear drop cell formation may be multifactorial but appears to involve distortion of the red cells as they pass through marrow or splenic sinusoids. Teardrop cells resulting from conditions such as cancer metastatic to the bone marrow likely involve primarily a marrow origin of the cells whereas primary myelofibrosis with prominent extramedullary hematopoiesis include a splenic mechanism of tear drop cell formation (2).

Supporting the possible splenic contribution to teardrop cell formation is the observation that teardrop cells may be reduced in number or eliminated entirely after splenectomy in patients with myelofibrosis and autoimmune hemolytic anemia (1,4).


Figure. Teardrop cells


1. DiBella NJ, Sliverstein MN, Hoagland HC. Effect of splenectomy on teardrop-shaped erythrocytes in agnogenic myeloid metaplasia. Arch Intern Med 1977; 137: 380-381. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/586447
2. Gutgemann I, Heimpel H, Nebe CT. Significance of teardrop cells in peripheral blood smears. J Lab Med 2014; DOI: 10.1515/labmed-2014-0005 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272430111_Significance_of_teardrop_cells_in_peripheral_blood_smears
3. Korber C, Wolfler A, Neubauer M, Robier Christoph. Red blood cell morphology in patients with β-thalassemia minor. J Lab Med 2016-12-10 | https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311564128_Red_blood_cell_morphology_in_patients_with_b-thalassemia_minor DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/labmed-2016-0052
4. Robier C, Klescher D, Reicht G,Amouzadeh-Ghadikolai O, Quehenberger F, Neubauer M. Dacrocytes are a common morphologic feature of autoimmune and microangiopathic haemolytic anaemia. Clin Chem Lab Med. 2015;53:1073-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25503671

Contributed by Tom Spitzer, MD, Director of Cellular Therapy and Transplantation Laboratory,  Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA.
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What is the significance of teardrop cells (dacrocytes) on the peripheral smear of my patient with newly-discovered pancytopenia?

My patient with brain tumor suffered a myocardial infarction (MI) just before having a diagnostic brain surgery. Could the tumor have placed him at higher risk of a coronary event?

Yes! Arterial thromboembolism—just as venous thromboembolism— is more common in patients with cancer.

In a large 2017 epidemiologic study involving patients 66 years of age or older, the 6-month cumulative incidence of MI was nearly 3-fold higher in newly-diagnosed cancer patients compared to controls, with the excess risk resolving by 1 year. 1 These findings were similar to a previous report involving patients with newly-diagnosed cancer, although in that study the overall coronary heart disease risk remained slightly elevated even after 10 years. 2

In addition, the incidence of coronary events and unstable ischemic heart disease during the 2 year period prior to the diagnosis of cancer is 2-fold higher among cancer patients suggesting that ischemic heart disease may be precipitated by occult cancer. 3

The association of cancer and thromboembolic coronary events may be explained through several mechanisms, including development of a prothrombotic or hypercoagulable state through acute phase reactants, abnormal fibrinolytic activity and increased activation of platelets which are also significantly involved in the pathophysiology of acute coronary syndrome (ACS). 4 Coronary artery embolism from cancer-related marantic endocarditis may also occur.5

More specific to our case, primary brain tumors may be associated with a hypercoagulable state through expression of potent procoagulants such as tissue factor and tissue factor containing microparticles, with a subset producing carbon monoxide, another procoagulant. 6

So our patient’s MI prior to his surgery for brain tumor diagnosis might have been more than a pure coincidence!

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that cancer-related prothrombotic state, also known as  “Trousseau’s syndrome” was first described in 1865 by Armand Trousseau, a French physician who diagnosed the same in himself and died of gastric cancer with thrombotic complications just 2 years later? 7,8


  1. Navi BB, Reinder AS, Kamel H, et al. Risk of arterial thromboembolism in patients with cancer. JACC 2017;70:926-38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28818202
  2. Zoller B, Ji Jianguang, Sundquist J, et al. Risk of coronary heart disease in patients with cancer: A nationwide follow-up study from Sweden. Eur J Cancer 2012;48:121-128. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22023886
  3. Naschitz JE, Yeshurun D, Abrahamson J, et al. Ischemic heart disease precipitated by occult cancer. Cancer 1992;69:2712-20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1571902
  4. Lee EC, Cameron SJ. Cancer and thrombotic risk: the platelet paradigm. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine 2017;4:1-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29164134
  5. Lee V, Gilbert JD, Byard RW. Marantic endocarditis-A not so benign entity. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine 2012;19:312-15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22847046
  6. Nielsen VG, Lemole GM, Matika RW, et al. Brain tumors enhance plasmatic coagulation: the role of hemeoxygenase-1. Anesth Analg 2014;118919-24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24413553
  7. Thalin C, Blomgren B, Mobarrez F, et al. Trousseau’s syndrome, a previously unrecognized condition in acute ischemic stroke associated with myocardial injury. Journal of Investigative Medicine High Impact Case Reports.2014. DOI:10.1177/2324709614539283. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26425612
  8. Samuels MA, King MA, Balis U. CPC, Case 31-2002. N Engl J Med 2002;347:1187-94. https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMcpc020117?articleTools=true

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My patient with brain tumor suffered a myocardial infarction (MI) just before having a diagnostic brain surgery. Could the tumor have placed him at higher risk of a coronary event?

What is the significance of Terry’s or Lindsay’s nails in my hospitalized patient?

Terry’s nails were first described in 1954 in patients with hepatic cirrhosis (prevalence 82%, majority related to alcohol abuse) (1). Since then, they have been reported in a variety of other conditions, including adult-onset diabetes mellitus (AODM), chronic congestive heart failure, chronic renal failure, pulmonary tuberculosis, and Reiter’s syndrome (2).

A 1984 study found Terry’s nails in 25% of hospitalized patients (3).  In this study, cirrhosis, chronic congestive heart failure, and AODM were significantly associated with Terry’s nails, while pulmonary tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer were not. The presence of Terry’s nails may be particularly concerning in patients 50 y of age or younger as it increases the relative risk of cirrhosis, chronic congestive heart failure or AODM by 5-fold (18-fold for cirrhosis alone) in this age group (3).

Terry’s nails should be distinguished from Lindsay’s nails or “half and half” nails. Although both nail abnormalities are characterized by an opaque white proximal portion, Terry’s nails have a thinner distal pink to brown transverse band no more than 3 mm wide (3) (Fig 1), while the same anomaly is wider and occupies 20%-60% of the nail bed in Lindsay’s nails (Fig 2). Of interest, Lindsay’s nails have been reported in up to 40% of patients with chronic kidney disease (4,5).


1. Terry R. White nails in hepatic cirrhosis. Lancet 1954;266:757-59. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13153107 
2. Nia AM, Ederer S, Dahlem K, et al. Terry’s nails: a window to systemic diseases. Am J Med 2011;124:603-604. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21683827 
3. Holzberg M, Walker HK. Terry’s nails: revised definitions and new correlations. Lancet 1984;1(8382):896-99. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6143196 
4. Pitukweerakul S, Pilla S. Terry’s nails and Lindsay’s nails: Two nail abnormalities in chronic systemic diseases. J Gen Intern Med 31;970.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4945547/ 
5. Gagnon AL, Desai T. Dermatological diseases in patients with chronic kidney disease 2013;2:104-109.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3891143/

Figure 1. Terry’s nails in a patient with end-stage liver disease

Figure 2. Lindsay’s nails in a patient with chronic kidney disease

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What is the significance of Terry’s or Lindsay’s nails in my hospitalized patient?