Autoimmune hemolytic anemia and positive Coombs test associated with ulcerative colitis

Am J Gastroenterol. 1997 Oct;92(10):1872-4.


Objectives: To estimate the frequency of autoimmune hemolytic anemia and Coombs positivity without overt hemolysis in ulcerative colitis, to determine possible subsets of patients with ulcerative colitis susceptible to this complication, and to assess the efficacy of the applied therapeutic modalities.

Methods: Three hundred and two patients with ulcerative colitis treated at the University Hospital of Heraklion, Crete, over a 6-yr period were included. Within this group, a subgroup of 152 patients were studied prospectively for the presence of a positive direct Coombs test.

Results: Autoimmune hemolytic anemia was diagnosed in five of 302 patients with ulcerative colitis (1.7%). One more patient developed Coombs-positive hemolytic anemia, attributed to sulfasalazine. A positive Coombs test without evidence of hemolysis was found in three of 152 patients (2%). The mean age of all Coombs-positive patients was 50.5 yr, and there was a definitive male preponderance (male: female, 2:1). Autoimmune hemolytic anemia occurred during active colitis in all cases. The mean time between the onset of colitis and the diagnosis of autoimmune hemolytic anemia was 17 months. Three of five patients with autoimmune hemolytic anemia (60%) and seven of nine of all Coombs-positive patients (77.7%) had total colitis. All patients with autoimmune hemolytic anemia were treated initially with large doses of corticosteroids. Three of five (60%) had good hematological responses. One patient responded to the addition of azathioprine, and one underwent splenectomy and proctocolectomy.

Conclusions: In this study, the frequency with which autoimmune hemolytic anemia was associated with ulcerative colitis was higher than in previous reports. The complication occurred early in the course of colitis and was related to activity and extent of the disease. In contrast to others studies, we found a preponderance of males. Although corticosteroids and/or immunosuppressive therapy was successful in most of our cases, one patient required surgery.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Autoimmune / complications*
  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Autoimmune / immunology
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / complications*
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / immunology
  • Colitis, Ulcerative / therapy
  • Coombs Test*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies