Influence of clinical factors on the haemolysis marker haptoglobin


  • This study was in part supported by Grant 10991 from the Österreichische Nationalbank (G.F.K.).

    Department of Blood Group Serology and Transfusion Medicine (G. F. Körmöczi, C. Buchta, W. R. Mayr, D. W. M. Schwartz, S. Panzer); Department of Internal Medicine III, Division of Nephrology and Dialysis (M. D. Säemann); Department of Internal Medicine IV, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology (M. Peck-Radosavljevic); Core Unit for Medical Statistics and Informatics (D. Dunkler); Institute of Medical and Chemical Laboratory Diagnostics (S. Spitzauer), Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.

Günther F. Körmöczi, MD, Department of Blood Group Serology and Transfusion Medicine, Medical University of Vienna, Währinger Gürtel 18-20, 1090 Vienna, Austria. Tel. +43 1 40400 5320; fax: +43 1 40400 5321; e-mail:


Background  Plasma haptoglobin determination is clinically used as parameter for haemolysis. To date, however, the influence of the mode of haemolysis (extravascular vs. intravascular) and of nonhaemolytic conditions on haptoglobin concentration and its reliability as a haemolysis marker remain poorly defined.

Materials and methods  In a total of 479 individuals, the influence of haemolytic and nonhaemolytic conditions on plasma haptoglobin levels was investigated.

Results  All studied types of haemolytic disease (n = 16) were associated with markedly decreased plasma haptoglobin levels, without significant differences between intravascular vs. predominantly extravascular haemolysis. Diminished haptoglobin values were also observed in patients with liver cirrhosis, which normalized after liver transplantation. In contrast, markedly increased haptoglobin levels were found in patients with inflammation. In patients with haemolysis and a concomitant acute-phase response, however, haemolysis-dependent haptoglobin depletion was not attenuated. Interestingly, patients with a strongly positive direct antiglobulin test or high cold agglutinin titre but no further evidence for haemolysis had normal haptoglobin values. Likewise, anaemia owing to bone marrow failure, acute gastrointestinal or chronic diffuse blood loss, and end-stage kidney disease were associated with normal haptoglobin levels.

Conclusions  Plasma haptoglobin depletion is a reliable marker for the instant diagnosis of accelerated red cell destruction irrespective of the site of haemolysis or the presence of inflammation. The capacity of this parameter to predict haemolysis appears to be limited in patients with liver cirrhosis and decreased haptoglobin production only.