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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Hemolytic anemia

Anemia - hemolytic

Last reviewed: February 24, 2014.

Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues.

Normally, red blood cells last for about 120 days in the body. In hemolytic anemia, red blood cells in the blood are destroyed earlier than normal.

Causes

Hemolytic anemia occurs when the bone marrow is unable to replace the red blood cells that are being destroyed.

Immune hemolytic anemia occurs when the immune system mistakenly sees your own red blood cells as foreign substances. Antibodies then develop against the red blood cells. These antibodies attack the red blood cells and cause them to break down too early.

Red blood cells may be destroyed due to:

Other causes are:

Symptoms

You may not have symptoms if the anemia is mild. If the problem develops slowly, the first symptoms may be:

  • Feeling grumpy
  • Feeling weak or tired more often than usual, or with exercise
  • Headaches
  • Problems concentrating or thinking

If the anemia gets worse, symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

A test called a complete blood count (CBC) can help diagnose anemia and offer some hints to the type and cause of the problem. Important parts of the CBC include red blood cell count (RBC), hemoglobin, and hematocrit (HCT).

These tests can identify the type of hemolytic anemia:

Treatment

Treatment depends on the type and cause of the hemolytic anemia:

  • In emergencies, a blood transfusion may be needed.
  • For an overactive immune system, drugs that suppress the immune system may be used.
  • When blood cells are being destroyed at a fast pace, the body may need extra folic acid and iron supplements to replace what is being lost.

In rare cases, surgery is needed to take out the spleen. This is because the spleen acts as a filter that removes abnormal cells from the blood.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Outcome depends on the type and cause of hemolytic anemia. Severe anemia can make heart disease, lung disease, or cerebrovascular disease worse.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of hemolytic anemia.

References

  1. Jager U, Lechner K. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ Jr, Silberstein LE, et al., eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 44.
  2. Price EA, Schrier SS. Extrinsic nonimmune hemolytic anemias. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ Jr, Silberstein LE, et al., eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 45.

Review Date: 2/24/2014.

Reviewed by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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