Difficult Cases of Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia: A Challenge for the Internal Medicine Specialist

J Clin Med. 2020 Nov 27;9(12):3858. doi: 10.3390/jcm9123858.


Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) is diagnosed in the presence of anemia, hemolysis, and direct antiglobulin test (DAT) positivity with monospecific antisera. Many confounders of anemia and hemolytic markers should be included in the initial workup (i.e., nutrients deficiencies, chronic liver or kidney diseases, infections, and cancers). Besides classical presentation, there are difficult cases that may challenge the treating physician. These include DAT negative AIHA, diagnosed after the exclusion of other causes of hemolysis, and supported by the response to steroids, and secondary cases (infections, drugs, lymphoproliferative disorders, immunodeficiencies, etc.) that should be suspected and investigated through careful anamnesis physical examination, and specific tests in selected cases. The latter include autoantibody screening in patients with signs/symptoms of systemic autoimmune diseases, immunoglobulins (Ig) levels in case of frequent infections or suspected immunodeficiency, and ultrasound/ computed tomography (CT) studies and bone marrow evaluation to exclude hematologic diseases. AIHA occurring in pregnancy is a specific situation, usually manageable with steroids and intravenous (iv) Ig, although refractory cases have been described. Finally, AIHA may complicate specific clinical settings, including intensive care unit (ICU) admission, reticulocytopenia, treatment with novel anti-cancer drugs, and transplant. These cases are often severe, more frequently DAT negative, and require multiple treatments in a short time.

Keywords: cold agglutinin disease; immunodeficiencies; intensive care unit; transplant; warm autoimmune hemolytic anemia.

Publication types

  • Review