Question 7.1

The following blood results are from a 51 -year-old female who presented with arthralgia, jaundice and dark urine.


Patient Value

Normal Adult Ran e


68 g/L

115 - 160

White Cell Count

33.1 x 109/L

4.0 — 11.0


307 x 109/L

150 - 400

Red Cell Count

2.22 x 1012/L *

3.80 - 4.80



0.37 - 0.47

Mean Cell Volume

88 fL

80 - 100

Mean Cell Haemoglobin


27.0 - 32.0

Mean Cell Haemoglobin Concentration

350 g/L

320 - 360



0.2 - 2.0

Reticulocytes Absolute

56 x 109/L

20 - 130

Comment: The red cells show moderate numbers of spherocytes

Serum Haptoglobins

< 0.10 g/L

0.30 - 2.00

Serum Lactate Dehydrogenase

948 U/L*

140 - 280

Total Protein

69 g/L

60 - 80


33 g/L

35 - 50


36 g/L

25 - 42

Total Bilirubin

119 mol/L*

< 20

Alanine Aminotransferase

276 U/L*

< 35

Alkaline Phosphatase

120 U/L*

30 - 1 10

Gamma-GlutamyI Transferase

114 U/L*

< 40

Direct Antiglobulin Test:





a) What is the diagnosis? (20% marks)

b) List three treatment options. (15% marks)

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College Answer


  • Warm autoimmune haemolytic anaemia.


  • Corticosteroids
  • IV immunoglobulin
  • Rituximab
  • Splenectomy
  • Danazol
  • Other cytotoxics / immunosuppressants (e.g. cyclophosphamide, azathioprine, cyclosporine)
  • Red cell transfusion


a) The only possible answer is autoimmune haemolytic anaemia. Overall, the differential diagnosis of autoimmune haemolytic anaemias looks like this:

Differential Causes of Autoimmune Haemolytic Anaemia
Warm haemolytic anaemia  Cold haemolytic anaemia
  • Idiopathic primary haemolytic anaemia
  • Viral infections, including HIV
  • Drugs, eg. penicillin, methyldopa, 5-FU, diclofenac, etc...
  • Lymhoproliferative disorders:
    • CLL
    • Lymphoma
    • Multiple myeloma
    • Hodgkins lymphoma
    • Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia
  • Autoimmune disorders, particularly SLE and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Post-infectious colad agglutinin disease
    • Syphilis
    • Post-viral
    • Mycoplasma pneumoniae
    • EBV, VZV, CMV, HIV
    • Adenovirus
    • Influenza viruses
  • Paroxysmal cold haemoglobinuria
    • Idiopathic
    • Virus-associated (EBV, CMV, etc)

In this scenario, the patient probably has one of the warm haemolytic anaemias, because both the IgG and C3d were found coating the red cells (IgM and C3d are found in cold haemolysis). The WCC is raised suggestive of a lymphoproliferative disorder as the cause. Arthralia may be due to some sort of autoimmune disease (SLE or RA), or it may be a subtle hint that the patient has been taking diclofenac to soothe her aching joints (which is a drug known to cause warm autoimmune haemolysis).


Generic management of warm autoimmune haemolytic anaemia could have included any three of the following options:

  • Corticosteroids appear to be effective as the first-line treatment. Among other thngs, the steroids reduce the synthesis of autoantibodies by B-cells.
  • Splenectomy is the second-line treatment. The spleen's macrophages are responsible for removing IgG-coated RBCs; also the spleen is a site of antibody production.
  • Cyclophosphamide / azathioprine  are reserved for those who fail steroids and splenctomy (or cannot have a splenectomy).
  • IV immunoglobulin is not strongly indicated: some reports show benefit, others don't.
  • Plasmapheresis is only indicated in fulminant acute haemolysis. Only a temporary improvement is to be expected, as this treatment does nothing to treat the underlying autoantibody production.
  • Rituximab, a CD20 monoclonal antibody, has been effective in cases of cold haemolytic anaemia where a B-cell dominant lymphoproliferative disorder is at fault. It seems to be more effective in warm haemolysis.
  • Eculizumab, a terminal complement inhibitor (monoclonal C5 antibody) has been found effective in various case reports (eg. Kim et al, 2016), even though it is indicated only for atypical HUS and paroxysmal nocturnal haemolobinuria.
  • Danazol, a synthetic steroid derivative of ethisterone, is very old school (Pignon et al, 1993) - it is usually used for endometriosis.


Zeerleder, S. "Autoimmune haemolytic anaemia-a practical guide to cope with a diagnostic and therapeutic challenge." Neth J Med 69.4 (2011): 177-84.

Gehrs, Bradley C., and Richard C. Friedberg. "Autoimmune hemolytic anemia."American journal of hematology 69.4 (2002): 258-271.

Birgens, Henrik, et al. "A phase III randomized trial comparing glucocorticoid monotherapy versus glucocorticoid and rituximab in patients with autoimmune haemolytic anaemia." British journal of haematology 163.3 (2013): 393-399.

Lechner, Klaus, and Ulrich Jäger. "How I treat autoimmune hemolytic anemias in adults." Blood 116.11 (2010): 1831-1838.

Salama, A., and B. Mayer. "Diagnostic pitfalls of drug-induced immune hemolytic anemia." Immunohematology 30.2 (2014): 80-4.

Zantek, Nicole D., et al. "The direct antiglobulin test: a critical step in the evaluation of hemolysis." American journal of hematology 87.7 (2012): 707-709.

Ma, Kim, and Stephen Caplan. "Refractory IgG Warm Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia Treated with Eculizumab: A Novel Application of Anticomplement Therapy." Case reports in hematology 2016 (2016).

Pignon, Jean‐Michel, Emmanuelle Poirson, and Henri Rochant. "Danazol in autoimmune haemolytic anaemia." British journal of haematology 83.2 (1993): 343-345.