Hemolytic Anemia: Symptoms, Treatment, and Causes (2023)


What is hemolytic anemia?

Hemolytic anemia is ablood disorderthat makes youRed blood cellsthey break down or die faster than your body can replace them with new blood cells. People can develop hemolytic anemia due to genetic conditions that cause anemia. People sometimes have mild symptoms of hemolytic anemia that go away after treatment. Health professionals can often cure hemolytic anemia after finding out what caused the condition. However, if left untreated, severe hemolytic anemia can cause serious heart problems.

What type of anemia is hemolytic anemia?

There are many different types of anemia. Hemolytic anemia occurs when red blood cells break down or die faster than normal. Red blood cells normally live for about 120 days. When they break down or die before then, your bone marrow doesn't have time to make enough new red blood cells, leaving you with a low red blood cell count. Other types of anemia can occur when:

  • An injury or illness causes excessive bleeding that drains the supply of red blood cells faster than the body can replace it.
  • Something affects the production of red blood cells, so your body makes fewer red blood cells or makes abnormal red blood cells.

Hemolytic anemia is less common than anemia caused by excessive bleeding or slow production of red blood cells.

What happens if hemolytic anemia is not treated?

Severe hemolytic anemia can lead to serious heart problems, includingarrhythmia(abnormal heart rhythm),cardiomyopathymiheart failure.

Who is affected by hemolytic anemia?

There are several types of hemolytic anemia, and each of them can affect people of all ages, races, and genders.

What is the difference between hemolytic anemia and autoimmune hemolytic anemia?

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA)It occurs when your immune system mistakes red blood cells for foreign or unwanted substances. Your body reacts by producing antibodies that destroy red blood cells, causing anemia. Different factors can cause hemolytic anemia, including hereditary conditions, infections, and some medications.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes hemolytic anemia?

Hemolytic anemia can be caused by inherited conditions that affect red blood cells. It is also caused by certain infections or if someone receives a blood transfusion from a donor whose blood type is not a match.

What hereditary conditions can cause hemolytic anemia?

Some common hereditary conditions are:

  • sickle cell anemia: In this disease, your body makes abnormally shaped red blood cells that get stuck in small blood vessels, the spleen, or the liver.
  • thalassemiaThis is another group of inherited blood disorders that cause your body to make abnormal red blood cells that are easily destroyed.
  • G6PD deficiency: To begenetic disorderit affects an enzyme that protects red blood cells. When the level of this enzyme drops, blood cells exposed to certain infections or medications are likely to break down.

What infections can cause hemolytic anemia?

Infections related to hemolytic anemia include:

  • Malaria: This disease occurs when mosquitoes infected with small malaria parasites bite people and leave parasites in the person's bloodstream. If left untreated, malaria can cause hemolytic anemia.
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever:This infection spreads whenticksinfected with bacteriaRickettsia rickettsibite people.
  • Haemophilus influenza disease: These are infections caused by bacteria.H. complaint.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV):This virus causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

What medications can cause hemolytic anemia?

Some people develop hemolytic anemia while taking certain medications. Not everyone who takes these drugs will develop hemolytic anemia. Your doctor will review your medical history and current problems to make sure you can take these medicines. These medications include:

  • Penicillin: This antibiotic treats infections and other serious medical conditions.
  • Quinine:This medicine treats malaria.
  • Methyldopa: This medicine treats high blood pressure.
  • Sulfonamides: This is an antibacterial drug.

What are the symptoms of hemolytic anemia?

Hemolytic symptoms can be mild or more severe. They can also appear suddenly or develop over time. Typical symptoms include:

  • Jaundice:This condition affects the skin, the whites of the eyes (sclera), and mucous membranes, turning them yellow. This happens when you have a high bilirubin level caused by a breakdown of red blood cells.
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea):This happens when you don't have enough red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body.
  • Fatigue:Fatigue is a feeling of being so tired that it affects your daily life and your ability to do your daily activities.
  • Fast heart rate (tachycardia):This condition means that your heart is beating faster than it should. When your heart beats too fast, there isn't enough time between beats for it to fill with blood, and your heart can't supply your body with the oxygen it needs.
  • low blood pressure(hypotension):Low blood pressure can be a symptom or a condition. It occurs when your blood pressure is much lower than expected.
  • blood in your urine(hematuria):This can be a symptom of sickle cell disease.
  • enlarged spleen orliver: The liver and spleen filter red blood cells as the cells move through the body. Damaged or dying red blood cells become trapped in the spleen and liver, destroying the cells. A larger than normal spleen or liver could be a sign that your red blood cells are damaged.

Can anemia be a medical emergency?

Acute anemia can be a symptom of sudden, severe blood loss or a sign that red blood cells are being destroyed too quickly. People with acute anemia may experience the following symptoms:

  • They are very weak.
  • Their hearts are beating very hard and fast.
  • They have trouble catching their breath.

Diagnosis and Tests

How do you know if you have hemolytic anemia?

Health professionals diagnose hemolytic anemia by:

  • Ask about your medical history, specifically if your family members have anemia.
  • Ask if you have certain infections or if you are taking certain medications that can cause hemolytic anemia.
  • Perform a physical exam focusing on signs and symptoms of anemia, jaundice, or if your spleen or liver is enlarged.

What tests do health professionals use to diagnose hemolytic anemia?

Health professionals often use various blood tests to diagnose hemolytic anemia. They may also examine blood samples for genetic markers that could be signs of inherited conditions that cause hemolytic anemia. They will usually do preliminary blood tests to determine if your symptoms are caused by some type of anemia. TOcomplete blood count (CBC)it is one of the preliminary tests they can do. A blood count measures:

  • How many red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets you have.
  • The size of your red blood cells.
  • Hemoglobin, the protein in the blood that carries oxygen throughout the body.
  • Hematocrit, which measures the amount of space red blood cells take up in the blood.

What other tests can health professionals do?

They may order additional tests to identify the type of anemia you may have. These are the tests providers use to diagnose anemia, including hemolytic anemia:

  • Coombs test (direct antiglobulin test): This test looks for autoimmune hemolytic anemia.
  • reticulocyte count: A reticulocyte count measures the number of immature red blood cells (reticulocytes) in the bone marrow. Health professionals measure reticulocytes to find out if your bone marrow is making enough healthy red blood cells.
  • haptoglobin tests: Haptoglobin is a protein that removes waste produced by damaged red blood cells. Low haptoglobin levels can be a sign of damaged red blood cells.
  • Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH): LDH is an enzyme in red blood cells. An elevated LDH level may be a sign of increased red blood cell destruction.
  • unconjugated bilirubin: When your red blood cells break down, they makebilirubin. This test measures the amount of bilirubin that is not being processed by the liver. This is unconjugated bilirubin. A high level of unconjugated bilirubin can be a sign that large numbers of red blood cells are being destroyed.
  • peripheral blood smear: Health professionals examine blood cells for signs of abnormalities, including size and shape.
  • hemoglobin electrophoresis: Health professionals use this test to analyze hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that helps cells carry oxygen throughout the body.

Management and Treatment

How do health professionals treat hemolytic anemia?

Health professionals treat hemolytic anemia based on the cause of your disease and whether you are experiencing severe symptoms. For example, if your doctor thinks you have severe anemia, he or she may order blood transfusions to stabilize your red blood cell count. They will then diagnose the underlying condition that is causing the anemia so that it can be treated.


How do I reduce the risk of developing hemolytic anemia?

Hemolytic anemia can be caused by many factors, most of which cannot be controlled. For example, you can develop hemolytic anemia after sustaining an injury or inheriting certain conditions. However, you can reduce your risk of serious illness by talking to your doctor any time you develop symptoms that could be anemia.

Outlook / Forecast

What can I expect if I have hemolytic anemia?

Hemolytic anemia affects people in different ways. Sometimes hemolytic anemia is a symptom of a serious underlying medical condition that requires extensive treatment. Other times, hemolytic anemia occurs as a reaction to certain infections and medications. In such cases, healthcare professionals cure the condition by treating the underlying infection or by changing the medication.

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How do I take care of myself?

Health professionals can cure your hemolytic anemia. Once you feel better, you may be interested in learning how to take care of your health to prevent another bout of illness. Some suggestions that can help you manage anemia include:

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins B12, C and B9 (folic acid). Ask to speak to a nutritionist if you want more information on ways to keep your red blood cells strong.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Exercise regularly. Talk to your doctor about ways to exercise safely.
  • Avoid infections by washing your hands and avoiding people when they are sick.
  • Keep track of your symptoms by writing them down.
  • Talk to your doctor about any change in symptoms.

A note from the Cleveland Clinic

Hemolytic anemia occurs when something destroys red blood cells. This condition could be a sign that you have an inherited medical condition or a medical problem caused by an infection. You may be reacting to specific medications. Regardless of the cause, your doctor will focus on finding and treating the underlying cause. Prompt treatment often makes the difference between getting better or getting worse. The symptoms of hemolytic anemia may seem like less serious conditions. You know your body best, including how long it takes to recover from everyday illnesses. Talk to your doctor whenever you are concerned about changes in your body that will not go away.

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