Confounding factors in the diagnosis and clinical course of rare congenital hemolytic anemias

Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2021 Oct 9;16(1):415. doi: 10.1186/s13023-021-02036-4.


Congenital hemolytic anemias (CHAs) comprise defects of the erythrocyte membrane proteins and of red blood cell enzymes metabolism, along with alterations of erythropoiesis. These rare and heterogeneous conditions may generate several difficulties from the diagnostic point of view. Membrane defects include hereditary spherocytosis and elliptocytosis, and the group of hereditary stomatocytosis; glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase and pyruvate kinase, are the most common enzyme deficiencies. Among ultra-rare forms, it is worth reminding other enzyme defects (glucosephosphate isomerase, phosphofructokinase, adenylate kinase, triosephosphate isomerase, phosphoglycerate kinase, hexokinase, and pyrimidine 5'-nucleotidase), and congenital dyserythropoietic anemias. Family history, clinical findings (anemia, hemolysis, splenomegaly, gallstones, and iron overload), red cells morphology, and biochemical tests are well recognized diagnostic tools. Molecular findings are increasingly used, particularly in recessive and de novo cases, and may be fundamental in unraveling the diagnosis. Notably, several confounders may further challenge the diagnostic workup, including concomitant blood loss, nutrients deficiency, alterations of hemolytic markers due to other causes (alloimmunization, infectious agents, rare metabolic disorders), coexistence of other hemolytic disorders (autoimmune hemolytic anemia, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, etc.). Additional factors to be considered are the possible association with bone marrow, renal or hepatic diseases, other causes of iron overload (hereditary hemochromatosis, hemoglobinopathies, metabolic diseases), and the presence of extra-hematological signs/symptoms. In this review we provide some instructive clinical vignettes that highlight the difficulties and confounders encountered in the diagnosis and clinical management of CHAs.

Keywords: Congenital hemolytic anemias; Differential diagnosis; Iron overload; Molecular studies; Splenectomy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Congenital* / diagnosis
  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Congenital* / genetics
  • Erythrocytes
  • Hemoglobinopathies*
  • Humans
  • Pyruvate Kinase / genetics
  • Spherocytosis, Hereditary* / diagnosis
  • Spherocytosis, Hereditary* / genetics


  • Pyruvate Kinase