Automated measurement of red blood cell microcytosis and hypochromia in iron deficiency and beta-thalassemia trait.Arch Pathol Lab Med 1992; 116(1):84-9AP
Some routine red blood cell (RBC) measurements and indexes (count, mean volume, volume dispersion, and mean hemoglobin [HGB] concentration) can be used to differentiate iron deficiency from heterozygous beta-thalassemia. A number of formulas that incorporate two or more of these measurements have been described to amplify such differences. The H*1 hematology analyzer directly measures volume and HGB concentration of individual RBCs. We have assessed the diagnostic usefulness of conventional and new RBC measurements provided by the H*1 on a learning data set that comprised 119 patients with iron deficiency and 172 patients with beta-thalassemia trait, both untreated and uncomplicated. The most striking finding was the inverse behavior of percentages of microcytes (volume, less than 60 fL) and hypochromic RBCs (HGB concentration, less than 280 g/L) in the two conditions. In 162 of 172 patients with beta-thalassemia trait, the percentage of microcytes (mean, 33.1%; central 95th percentile range, 9.2% to 54.5%) was higher than the percentage of hypochromic RBCs (mean, 13.9%; central 95th percentile range, 1.7% to 24.7%). In 105 of 119 patients with iron deficiency, on the contrary, the percentage of hypochromic cells (mean, 34.6%; central 95th percentile range, 9.7% to 73.1%) was higher than the percentage of microcytes (mean, 12.8%; central 95th percentile range, 1.7% to 29.6%). The ratio between the percentage of microcytes and the percentage of hypochromic cells provided by the H*1 (microcytic-hypochromic ratio) was useful in differentiating the two types of microcytic anemia: with the use of a discriminant value of 0.9, the discriminant efficiency of the microcytic-hypochromic ratio was 92.4% (95% confidence interval, 88.8% to 95.2%), higher than that of the five previously described discriminant formulas and simple RBC measurements. When assessed on a test data set that comprised 149 unselected cases of microcytic anemia, a microcytic-hypochromic ratio lower than 0.9 demonstrated high sensitivity (94.0%), specificity (92.3%), and predictive value (94.0%) for the presence of iron-deficient erythropoiesis in patients with isolated iron deficiency, polycythemia vera treated by phlebotomy, and iron deficiency complicating heterozygous thalassemia. In conclusion, our results showed that iron-deficient erythropoiesis is characterized by the production of RBCs with a severely decreased HGB concentration, while microcytes of beta-thalassemia trait are generally smaller, with a more preserved HGB concentration. Such properties, as assessed by the H*1 hematology analyzer, are very useful in distinguishing these two common types of microcytic anemia.