Autoimmune hemolytic anemia in chronic lymphocytic leukemia: A comprehensive review

Francesco Autore, Raffaella Pasquale, Idanna Innocenti, Alberto Fresa, Federica Sora’, Luca Laurenti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients have a greater predisposition to develop autoimmune complications. The most common of them is autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) with a frequency of 7–10% of cases. Pathogenesis is multifactorial involving humoral, cellular, and innate immunity. CLL B-cells have damaged apoptosis, produce less immunoglobulins, and could be responsible for antigen presentation and releasing inflammatory cytokines. CLL B-cells can act similar to antigen-presenting cells activating self-reactive T helper cells and may induce T-cell subsets imbalance, favoring autoreactive B-cells which produce anti-red blood cells autoantibodies. Treatment is individualized and it depends on the presence and severity of clinical symptoms, disease status, and comorbidities. Corticosteroids are the standardized first-line treatment; second-line treatment comprises rituximab. Patients not responding to corticosteroids and rituximab should be treated with CLL-specific drugs as per current guidelines according to age and comorbidities. New targeted drugs (BTK inhibitors and anti BCL2) are recently used after or together with steroids to manage AIHA. In the case of cold agglutinin disease, rituximab is preferred, because steroids are ineffective. Management must combine supportive therapies, including vitamins; antibiotics and heparin prophylaxis are indicated in order to minimize infectious and thrombotic risk.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5804
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2021


  • AIHA
  • CLL
  • Rituximab
  • Steroids
  • Targeted drugs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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