Hemolytic anemia is a blood disorder that typically happens when your red blood cells break down or die faster than your body can replace them with new blood cells. People may develop hemolytic anemia by inheriting genetic conditions that cause anemia, certain infections and certain medications. Healthcare providers treat this condition by treating the underlying issue.
Hemolytic anemia is a blood disorder that makes your red blood cells break down or die faster than your body can replace them with new blood cells. People may develop hemolytic anemia due to genetic conditions that cause anemia. Sometimes, people have mild hemolytic anemia symptoms that go away after treatment. Many times, healthcare providers can cure hemolytic anemia after finding out what caused the condition. Left untreated, however, severe hemolytic anemia can cause serious heart trouble.
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There are many different types of anemia. Hemolytic anemia happens when your red blood cells break down or die faster than they usually do. Red blood cells normally live for about 120 days. When they break down or die sooner than that, your bone marrow doesn’t have time to produce enough new red blood cells, leaving you with a low red blood cell count. Other anemia types may occur when:
Hemolytic anemia is less common than anemia caused by excessive bleeding or slow red blood cell production.
There are several kinds of hemolytic anemia, and each of these may affect people of all age groups, races and genders.
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) occurs when your immune system mistakes red blood cells for unwanted or foreign substances. Your body reacts by producing antibodies that destroy the red blood cells, causing anemia. Different factors may cause hemolytic anemia, including inherited conditions, infections and some medications.
Hemolytic anemia may be caused by inherited conditions that affect the red blood cells. It’s also caused by certain infections or if someone receives a blood transfusion from a donor whose blood type didn’t match.
Some common inherited conditions are:
Infections linked to hemolytic anemia include:
Some people develop hemolytic anemia from taking certain medications. Not everyone who takes these medications will develop hemolytic anemia. Your healthcare provider will review your medical history and current problems to be sure you can take these medications. These medications include:
Hemolytic symptoms can be mild or more severe. They also can come on suddenly or develop over time. Typical symptoms include:
Acute anemia may be a symptom of sudden and severe loss of blood or a sign that red blood cells are being destroyed very quickly. People who have acute anemia may have the following symptoms:
Healthcare providers diagnose hemolytic anemia by:
Healthcare providers typically use several blood tests to diagnose hemolytic anemia. They may also examine blood samples for genetic markers that may be signs of inherited conditions that cause hemolytic anemia. Typically, they’ll do preliminary blood tests to determine if your symptoms are caused by some form of anemia. A complete blood count (CBC) is one of the preliminary tests they may do. A CBC measures:
They may order additional tests to identify the kind of anemia you may have. Here are tests that providers use to diagnose anemia, including hemolytic anemia:
Healthcare providers treat hemolytic anemia based on the cause of your illness and if you’re having severe symptoms. For example, if your healthcare provider believes you have severe anemia, they may order blood transfusions to stabilize your red blood cell count. Then they’ll diagnose the underlying condition that’s causing you to have anemia so they can treat the condition.
Hemolytic anemia may be caused by several factors, most of which you can’t control. For example, you can develop hemolytic anemia after being injured, or by inheriting certain conditions. You can, however, reduce your risk for serious illness by talking to your healthcare provider any time you develop symptoms that may be anemia.
Hemolytic anemia affects people in different ways. Sometimes, hemolytic anemia is a symptom of an underlying serious medical condition that requires extensive treatment. Other times, hemolytic anemia happens as a reaction to certain infections and medications. In those cases, healthcare providers cure the condition by treating the underlying infection or changing medications.
Healthcare providers may be able to cure your hemolytic anemia. Once you’re feeling better, you may be interested in learning how to manage your health to avoid another bout of illness. Some suggestions that may help you to manage anemia include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Hemolytic anemia happens when something is destroying your red blood cells. This condition may be a sign you have an inherited medical condition or a medical issue caused by infection. You may be reacting to specific medications. Regardless of the cause, your healthcare provider will focus on finding and treating the underlying cause. Prompt treatment often makes the difference between getting well and getting worse. Hemolytic anemia symptoms may look and feel like less serious conditions. You know your body best, including how long it takes you to recover from everyday illnesses. Talk to your healthcare provider whenever you’re concerned about changes in your body that don’t go away.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/03/2022.
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