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Am Fam Physician. 2018 Sep 15;98(6):354-361.

Hemolytic Anemia: Evaluation and Differential Diagnosis.

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Womack Army Medical Center, Fort Bragg, NC, USA.


Hemolytic anemia is defined by the premature destruction of red blood cells, and can be chronic or life-threatening. It should be part of the differential diagnosis for any normocytic or macrocytic anemia. Hemolysis may occur intravascularly, extravascularly in the reticuloendothelial system, or both. Mechanisms include poor deformability leading to trapping and phagocytosis, antibody-mediated destruction through phagocytosis or direct complement activation, fragmentation due to microthrombi or direct mechanical trauma, oxidation, or direct cellular destruction. Patients with hemolysis may present with acute anemia, jaundice, hematuria, dyspnea, fatigue, tachycardia, and possibly hypotension. Laboratory test results that confirm hemolysis include reticulocytosis, as well as increased lactate dehydrogenase, increased unconjugated bilirubin, and decreased haptoglobin levels. The direct antiglobulin test further differentiates immune causes from nonimmune causes. A peripheral blood smear should be performed when hemolysis is present to identify abnormal red blood cell morphologies. Hemolytic diseases are classified into hemoglobinopathies, membranopathies, enzymopathies, immune-mediated anemias, and extrinsic nonimmune causes. Extrinsic nonimmune causes include the thrombotic microangiopathies, direct trauma, infections, systemic diseases, and oxidative insults. Medications can cause hemolytic anemia through several mechanisms. A rapid onset of anemia or significant hyperbilirubinemia in the neonatal period should prompt consideration of a hemolytic anemia.

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