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.