Laboratory diagnosis of anemia: are the old and new red cell parameters useful in classification and treatment, how?

M Buttarello
International Journal of Laboratory Hematology 2016, 38 Suppl 1: 123-32

INTRODUCTION: Anemia is a global problem affecting the population in both developing and developed countries, and there is a debate on which hemoglobin level limit should be used to define anemia in general population and particularly in the elderly. We present herein a laboratory approach to diagnosing the possible causes of anemia based on traditional and new erythroid parameters. In this article, we provide practical diagnostic algorithms that address to differential diagnosis of anemia. Based on both morphological and kinetic classifications, three patterns were considered: microcytic, normocytic, and macrocytic.

METHODS: Main interest is on the clinical usefulness of old and new parameters such as mean cell volume (MCV), red blood cell distribution width (RDW), hypochromic and microcytic erythrocytes, immature reticulocyte fraction (IRF), and some reticulocyte indices such as reticulocyte hemoglobin content and mean reticulocyte volume. The pathophysiologic basis is reviewed in terms of bone marrow erythropoiesis, evaluated by reticulocyte count (increased or normal/decreased) and IRF. The utility of reticulocyte indices in the diagnosis of iron-deficient erythropoiesis (absolute or functional) and in monitoring of response to treatment in nutritional anemia (iron and cobalamin) was also investigated.

RESULTS: For each parameter, the availability, the possible clinical applications, and the limitations were evaluated. A discussion on intraindividual biological variation and its implication on the usefulness of conventional reference intervals and in longitudinal monitoring of the patients was also reported.

CONCLUSION: Red cell parameters and reticulocyte indices play an essential role in differential diagnosis of anemia and in its treatment. More efforts are needed in harmonizing parameters whose results are still too different when produced by different analyzers.

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