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Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

(Hemolytic Anemia)

Definition

Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When red blood cells are low, the body does not get enough oxygen. This can cause symptoms such as fatigue, pale skin, or irregular heartbeat.

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia is caused by the destruction of RBCs. It can be a serious, fatal condition that requires care from a doctor.

Red Blood Cells

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Causes    TOP

This type of anemia is caused by an autoimmune problem. The immune system attacks and destroys red blood cells. The abnormal reaction of the immune system may be caused by:

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase your risk of developing autoimmune hemolytic anemia include:

  • Recent viral infections
  • Taking medications that can cause autoimmune hemolytic anemia
  • Cancer
  • Collagen-vascular (autoimmune) disease
  • Family history of hemolytic disease

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms may include:

  • Dark brown urine
  • Yellow or pale skin
  • Muscle pains
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms, medications, and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a specialist.

Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests

Treatment    TOP

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Mild cases may not need treatment. They may resolve on their own. Treatment options include the following:

Treating the Underlying Condition

Treating the cause of autoimmune hemolytic anemia may help treat the condition. Causes include cancer, medications, or collagen-vascular disease.

Corticosteroids

Cortisone-like drugs suppress the immune response. These drugs usually improve the more common types of autoimmune hemolytic anemia.

Other Immunosuppressive Drugs    TOP

Other drugs that suppress the immune system may be used if corticosteroids are not effective.

Splenectomy    TOP

The spleen removes abnormal red cells from the circulation, including those labeled with antibodies. A splenectomy can preserve those cells and prevent anemia.

Transfusion    TOP

You will need transfusions if your blood gets too anemic.

Prevention    TOP

There are no current guildelines to prevent autoimmune hemolytic anemia because are multiple causes.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://familydoctor.org
NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders
https://rarediseases.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Blood Services
https://blood.ca

References:

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated May 17, 2017. Accessed September 29, 2017.
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated January 2017. Accessed September 29, 2017.
Dhaliwal G, Cornett PA, Tierney LM, Jr., et al. Hemolytic anemia. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(11):2599-2606.
Lechner K, Jäger U. How I treat autoimmune hemolytic anemias in adults. Blood. 2010;116(11):1831-1838.
Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 8/28/2014

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