What Is Hemolytic Anemia?
bone marrow is responsible for producing red blood cells, white blood cells,
and platelets (cells responsible for clotting). Hemolytic anemia is a condition
that involves only the red blood cells. When old red blood cells die, the bone
marrow produces new ones to maintain balance. Hemolytic anemia occurs when red blood
cells die sooner than the bone marrow can produce them. The scientific term for
red blood cell destruction is hemolysis. There are two forms of hemolytic
anemia: extrinsic and intrinsic.
hemolytic anemia develops when the
spleen traps and destroys healthy red blood cells. It can also come from red
blood cell destruction due to:
- autoimmune disorders
- medication side effects
hemolytic anemia develops when the red blood
cells produced by the body are defective. The condition is often inherited,
such as in people with sickle cell anemia or thalassemia.
of any age can develop hemolytic anemia. However, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood
hemolytic anemia seems to affect more African Americans than Caucasians. This
is likely because sickle cell anemia is more prevalent amongst African Americans.
Causes of Hemolytic Anemia
The cause of hemolytic anemia is red blood
cell destruction. Red blood cell destruction can arise from blood disorders,
toxins, or infection.
Underlying causes of hemolytic anemia include:
- Epstein-Barr virus
- typhoid fever
- sickle cell anemia
- E. coli
- pain medication
- Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome
- HELLP syndrome (named for its characteristics: hemolysis,
elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count)
Some cases of anemia have no known cause.
What Are the Symptoms of Hemolytic Anemia?
Some symptoms of hemolytic anemia are the same
as other forms of anemia.
These common symptoms include:
- paleness of the skin
- weakness/inability to do physical activity
Other, less common signs and symptoms seen in
patients with hemolytic anemia include:
- dark urine
- yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- heart murmur
- increased heart rate
- enlarged spleen
- enlarged liver
Diagnosing Hemolytic Anemia
going over your medical history and discussing any
symptoms you are experiencing, your doctor may suspect anemia. Your doctor may
ask you to lie flat on your back while they press gently on various areas of
your abdomen. This physical examination can
reveal tenderness in the abdomen as well as a swollen liver.
confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will give you a blood
test. This test measures the levels of your hemoglobin and
reticulocyte (very young red blood cells made by the bone marrow in response to
anemia). The reticulocyte count measures how many red blood cells your body is
producing. Your doctor can use additional tests to check for other illnesses,
the presence of bacteria, or different types of anemia. Because hemolytic
anemia can be caused by liver disease and result in an enlarged liver, your
doctor can also use a blood test to see how your liver is functioning.
necessary, your doctor may take a small amount of fluid from your bone marrow.
This test is a minimally invasive procedure and is called a bone marrow
aspiration or biopsy. Your doctor will give you a local
anesthetic to prevent pain. They will then insert a needle into your bone,
usually at an area near the posterior or back of the hip or the posterior iliac
crest, and withdraw marrow from the bone. The sample is sent to the lab, where
a technician will look at it to determine what types and amounts of cells are
being produced. At the lab, the cells will also be checked for any
How Is Hemolytic Anemia Treated?
Treatment options for hemolytic anemia differ
depending on severity of the condition, your age, your health, and your tolerance
to certain medications.
Treatment options for hemolytic anemia
- blood transfusion
- intravenous immune globulin
- corticosteroid medication
A blood transfusion is given to quickly
increase your red blood cell count and to replace destroyed red blood cells
with new ones.
Intravenous Immune Globulin
blood cell count can negatively affect the way your immune system fights
infection. You may be given immune globulin intravenously in the
hospital to improve your immune system function.
In the case of an extrinsic form of hemolytic
anemia of autoimmune origin, corticosteroids are used to stop your immune
system from making antibodies that destroy red blood cells.
severe cases, your spleen may need to be removed.