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Cold Agglutinin Disease Differential Diagnoses

  • Author: Salman Abdullah Aljubran, MD; Chief Editor: Michael A Kaliner, MD  more...
 
Updated: Jul 20, 2016
 
 

Diagnostic ConsiderationsCryoglobulinemiaWarm antibody–mediated autoimmune hemolytic anemiaEpisodic hemoglobinuria following cold exposureNeoplasmsDrug-induced immune hemolytic anemia

Conditions to consider in the differential diagnosis of cold agglutinin disease include the following:

  • Cryoglobulinemia
  • Warm antibody–mediated autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) - Some cases of cold agglutinin disease may be confused with this condition, particularly those in which the antibody has a high thermal amplitude
  • Episodic hemoglobinuria following cold exposure
  • Neoplasms - Especially of the lymphoid type
  • Drug-induced immune hemolytic anemia
  • Rheumatologic diseases manifesting Raynaud syndrome
  • Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia/thrombosis syndrome - Patients may have painful digits; anemia could be due to bleeding, but other manifestations are different
  • Systemic vasculitis, sometimes with hemolysis (systemic lupus and scleroderma)
  • Erythromelalgia in association with primary thrombocythemia and painful fingers and toes
  • Malaria and certain other infections

This condition has almost none of the features of cold agglutinin disease, except for a history of Raynaud syndrome and an elevated IgM level in some cases (but without hemolysis).

This must be differentiated from cold agglutinin disease, especially when no symptoms or findings suggest cold-induced acrocyanosis or Raynaud-type phenomenon. The cold agglutinin titer is a specific differentiating test, and a positive IgG-specific Coombs test result would exclude cold agglutinin disease. Examination of the peripheral blood smear is less specific, but finding typical RBC clumps would be unlikely in AIHA, unless it is a mixed IgG-IgM warm-cold autoimmune hemolytic anemia.[12, 15]

This can occur in more severe cases of cold agglutinin disease, so confusion may exist as to whether a patient has Donath-Landsteiner hemolytic anemia or cold agglutinin disease. The cold agglutinin titer is less than 1:64 in Donath-Landsteiner, and the result of the Donath-Landsteiner test for cold hemolysis is positive. (Donath-Landsteiner screening tests are warranted only if hemoglobinuria is detected in the patient.) The age of the patient is very important, as a diagnosis of Donath-Landsteiner hemolytic anemia is more probable in a child; in one study, the median age at presentation was 5 years and the peak incidence was in children 4 years and under.[27] March hemoglobinuria (episodic) is clearly related to exertion.

Neoplasms may be associated with a cold agglutinin or a cryoglobulin, giving rise to symptoms of Raynaud syndrome. If the cold agglutinin titer is elevated and a complement-specific Coombs test result is positive, the patient may have a neoplastic clone of lymphocytes producing the cold agglutinin disease. This would be important in terms of therapy and prognosis, because the underlying lymphoma may be responsive to treatment. Often, the more severe forms of cold agglutinin disease are associated with lymphoid malignancy.[48]

This condition may also be a source of confusion, particularly when the direct Coombs test result is positive only for complement. However, the specific drug used and low cold-agglutinin titer should help to distinguish drug-induced hemolytic anemia from cold agglutinin disease.

Differential Diagnoses

 
 
Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Salman Abdullah Aljubran, MD Clinical Fellow, Division of Allergy and Immunology, University of South Florida College of Medicine

Salman Abdullah Aljubran, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, American Thoracic Society, Massachusetts Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Richard F Lockey, MD University Distinguished Health Professor, Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics and Public Health, Joy McCann Culverhouse Chair in Allergy and Immunology, University of South Florida College of Medicine; Director, Division of Allergy and Immunology, James A Haley Veterans’ Hospital

Richard F Lockey, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Physicians, American Medical Association, Florida Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Michael A Kaliner, MD Clinical Professor of Medicine, George Washington University School of Medicine; Medical Director, Institute for Asthma and Allergy

Michael A Kaliner, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, American Association of Immunologists, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, American Society for Clinical Investigation, American Thoracic Society, Association of American Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

Nicolas A Camilo, MD Consulting Staff, Mountain States Tumor Institute, Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, St Luke's Regional Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Max J Coppes, MD, PhD, MBA Senior Vice President, Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, Children's National Medical Center; Professor of Medicine, Oncology, and Pediatrics, Georgetown University School of Medicine; Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Max J Coppes, MD, PhD, MBA is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for Cancer Research, American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, and Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Gary D Crouch, MD Program Director of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Fellowship, Department of Pediatrics, Associate Professor, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

Gary D Crouch, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics and American Society of Hematology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Sharon Georgy, MD Resident Physician, Department of Internal Medicine, University of South Florida College of Medicine

Sharon Georgy, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

James L Harper, MD Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Hematology/Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation, Associate Chairman for Education, Department of Pediatrics, University of Nebraska Medical Center; Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Creighton University School of Medicine; Director, Continuing Medical Education, Children's Memorial Hospital; Pediatric Director, Nebraska Regional Hemophilia Treatment Center

James L Harper, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Cancer Research, American Federation for Clinical Research, American Society of Hematology, American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics, and Hemophilia and Thrombosis Research Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Gary R Jones, MD Associate Medical Director, Clinical Development, Berlex Laboratories

Gary R Jones, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, and Western Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Jeffrey Lee Kishiyama, MD Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine; Consulting Staff, Allergy and Asthma Associates of Santa Clara Valley Research Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Thomas W Loew, MD Director, Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Subspecialty Training Program, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Rajalaxmi McKenna, MD, FACP Southwest Medical Consultants, SC, Department of Medicine, Good Samaritan Hospital, Advocate Health Systems

Rajalaxmi McKenna, MD, FACP is a member of the following medical societies: American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Society of Hematology, and International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Harry L Messmore, Jr, MD Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine

Harry L Messmore, Jr, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Angiology, American College of Physicians, American Heart Association, American Society of Hematology, and Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Peripheral blood smear showing several clumps of RBCs with the largest in the center. These are typical of aggregates seen in persons with cold agglutinin disease.
Blood smear showing spherocytic and agglutinated red blood cells.
 
 
 
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