Fatal hemolytic anemia associated with metformin: a case report

J Med Case Rep. 2008 Sep 10:2:300. doi: 10.1186/1752-1947-2-300.


Introduction: Metformin is a widely prescribed biguanide antidiabetic drug that has been implicated as a cause of hemolytic anemia in three previous case reports. We report a case of rapidly fatal hemolysis that was temporally associated with the initiation of metformin treatment for diabetes. Clinicians need to be aware of this rare but potentially serious side effect of metformin.

Case presentation: A 56-year-old Caucasian man with type 2 diabetes mellitus was started on metformin to improve glycemic control. Shortly afterwards, he developed progressive fatigue, exertional dyspnea, cranberry-colored urine and jaundice. Laboratory studies showed severe hemolysis, with a drop in hemoglobin from 14.7 to 6.6 g/dl over 4 days, markedly elevated lactate dehydrogenase, bilirubin and reticulocyte counts, and a low haptoglobin level. A peripheral blood smear showed no schistocytes, and a direct Coombs test was positive for anti-IgG and negative for anti-C3. Despite corticosteroid treatment and transfusion of packed red blood cells, the patient developed increasing dyspnea, hypotension, further decline in hemoglobin to 3.3 g/dl, and fatal cardiorespiratory arrest 12 hours after admission.

Conclusion: The serologic findings in this case suggest an autoimmune hemolytic anemia, caused either by a drug-induced autoantibody or a warm autoantibody. Based on the temporal association with metformin and the lack of other clear precipitating causes, we propose that metformin-induced hemolysis with a drug-induced autoantibody is a strong possibility. This mechanism differs from a previously described case with a possible antibody to the erythrocyte-drug complex. It has been shown, however, that hemolysis may occur via multiple mechanisms from the same drug. Clinicians should consider the possibility of metformin-associated immune hemolytic anemia in patients with otherwise unexplained hemolysis.