Defining autoimmune hemolytic anemia: a systematic review of the terminology used for diagnosis and treatment

Blood Adv. 2019 Jun 25;3(12):1897-1906. doi: 10.1182/bloodadvances.2019000036.


The terminology applied to autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) seems inconsistent. We aimed to evaluate the consistency of definitions used for diagnosis and treatment. In this systematic review of literature from January 2006 to December 2015, we assessed heterogeneity in the definition of AIHA and its subtypes, refractory disease, disease phase, severity, criteria for treatment response, and response durability. A Medline search for anemia, hemolytic, autoimmune was supplemented with keyword searches. Main exclusions were conference abstracts, animal and non-English studies, and studies with <10 cases. Of 1371 articles retrieved, 1209 were excluded based on titles and abstracts. Two authors independently reviewed 10% and 16% of abstracts and full papers, respectively. After full-paper review, 84 studies were included. AIHA was most frequently (32 [52%] of 61) defined as hemolytic anemia with positive direct antiglobulin test (DAT) and exclusion of alternatives, but 10 of 32 also recognized DAT-negative AIHA. A lower threshold for diagnosis of DAT-negative AIHA was observed in literature on chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Definitions of anemia, hemolysis, and exclusion criteria showed substantial variation. Definitions of primary/secondary cold agglutinin disease/syndrome were not consistent. Forty-three studies provided criteria for treatment response, and other than studies from 1 center, these were almost entirely unique. Other criteria were rarely defined. Only 7, 0, 3, 2, 2, and 3 studies offered definitions of warm AIHA, paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria, mixed AIHA, AIHA severity, disease phase, and refractory AIHA, respectively. Marked heterogeneity in the time period sampled indicates the need to standardize AIHA terminology.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Autoimmune / diagnosis*
  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Autoimmune / immunology*
  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Autoimmune / therapy
  • Coombs Test / methods
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Hemoglobinuria, Paroxysmal / diagnosis*
  • Hemoglobinuria, Paroxysmal / etiology
  • Hemolysis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / drug effects
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Publications / standards
  • Publications / statistics & numerical data
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Terminology as Topic


  • Immunoglobulin G