Severe Refractory Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia With Both Warm and Cold Autoantibodies That Responded Completely to a Single Cycle of Rituximab: A Case Report

J Med Case Rep. 2011 Apr 19;5:156. doi: 10.1186/1752-1947-5-156.


Introduction: Mixed warm and cold autoimmune hemolytic anemia runs a chronic course with severe intermittent exacerbations. Therapeutic options for the treatment of hemolysis associated with autoimmune hemolytic anemia are limited. There have been only two reported cases of the effective use of rituximab in the treatment of patients with mixed autoimmune hemolytic anemia. We report a case of severe mixed autoimmune hemolytic anemia that did not respond to steroids and responded to four weekly doses of rituximab (one cycle).

Case presentation: A 62-year-old Caucasian man presented with dyspnea, jaundice and splenomegaly. His blood work revealed severe anemia (hemoglobin, 4.9 g/dL) with biochemical evidence of hemolysis. Exposure to cold led to worsening of the patient's hemolysis and hemoglobinuria. A direct antiglobulin test was positive for immunoglobulin G and complement C3d, and cold agglutinins of immunoglobulin M type were detected. A bone marrow biopsy revealed erythroid hyperplasia. A positron emission tomographic scan showed no sites of pathologic uptake. There was no other evidence of a lymphoid or myeloid disorder. Initial therapy consisted of avoidance of cold, intravenous methylprednisolone and a trial of plasmapheresis. However, there was no clinically significant response, and the patient continued to be transfusion-dependent. He was then started on 375 mg/m2/week intravenous rituximab therapy. After two treatments, his hemoglobin stabilized and the transfusion requirement diminished. Rituximab was continued for a total of four weeks and led to the complete resolution of his hemolytic anemia and associated symptoms. At the patient's last visit, about two years after the initial rituximab treatment, he continued to be in complete remission.

Conclusion: To the best of our knowledge, this is the first reported case of mixed-type autoimmune hemolytic anemia that did not respond to steroid therapy but responded completely to only one cycle of rituximab. The previous two reports of rituximab use in mixed autoimmune hemolytic anemia described an initial brief response to steroids and the use of rituximab at the time of relapse. In both of these case reports, the response to one cycle of rituximab was short-lived and a second cycle of rituximab was required. Our case report demonstrates that severe hemolysis associated with mixed autoimmune hemolytic anemia can be unresponsive to steroid therapy and that a single cycle of rituximab may lead to prompt and durable complete remission.