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Diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune haemolytic anaemias in adults: a clinical review.

Autoimmune haemolytic anaemia (AIHA) is an immune disorder caused by antibodies directed against unmodified autologous red cells. The disorder may be a primary (idiopathic) or a secondary disease. The diagnosis is based on the presence of anaemia, signs of haemolysis with reticulocytosis, low haptoglobin, increased lactate dehydrogenase, elevated indirect bilirubin, and a positive direct antiglobulin test (Coombs test). Sometimes, not all of these typical features are present. Most AIHA are caused by warm antibodies, whereas cold antibodies are less commonly detected. While half of the warm antibody-based AIHA are idiopathic anaemias, almost all cold antibody AIHA are secondary anaemias. Underlying diseases are Non Hodgkin's lymphomas and systemic autoimmune disorders, and less frequently organ transplantation, infections, or solid tumors. Moreover, AIHA is an important complication of treatment with nucleoside analogs. Most patients with AIHA require therapy. In warm antibody AIHA, standard first line therapy are glucocorticosteroids with or without high dose immunoglobulins, whereas splenectomy is considered second-line therapy. Response rates of primary AIHA to corticosteroid therapy are high. After initial remission, the dose should be tapered down slowly and with caution, and in some cases, low-dose maintenance therapy is required. The efficacy of standard therapy is low in secondary AIHA that develops in lymphoma patients, posttransplant patients, or tumor patients. Among other immunosuppressive treatments, rituximab (anti-CD20) appears to be highly effective in patients with warm antibody AIHA refractory to standard therapy. Mycophenolate mofetil is quite effective in AIHA patients with an underlying autoimmune or lymphoproliferative disease. Patients with cold agglutinins are refractory to steroids and splenectomy. Half of these patients may respond to rituximab, although responses usually are short-lived. Sometimes, AIHA that is associated with malignant lymphomas or tumors, disappears after successful anti-lymphoma or anti-tumor therapy.

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