Health Library

Autoimmune 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. Low levels of RBCs make it hard to get enough oxygen throughout the body. This can cause symptoms such as fatigue, pale skin, or irregular heartbeat.

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia is caused by the RBCs being destroyed. It can be a serious, fatal condition that needs medical care.

Red Blood Cells
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Causes

This type of anemia is caused by a problem with the immune system. For some reason, the immune system starts making antibodies that attack red blood cells. Medicine or other illnesses may cause this change in the immune system.

Risk Factors

The risk of autoimmune hemolytic anemia may be higher in those who have:

Symptoms

A person with this health problem may have:

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

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Anemia may be suspected based on symptoms. A blood test will confirm low levels of RBCs. There are different types of anemia. Other tests will confirm the type.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to stop the RBCs from being destroyed. Mild cases of anemia may not need treatment. They may get better on their own. Any health problem causing the anemia will be treated. Medicines that cause the anemia may be stopped. Other treatments include:

  • Medicine to slow or stop the immune system from attacking RBCs.
  • A blood transfusion to replace RBCs. This helps for a short time and is not a cure.
  • If the anemia causes the spleen to be enlarged, it may need to be removed. The spleen is a small organ near the stomach. It helps clear out old and damaged RBCs.
  • Prevention

    Autoimmune hemolytic anemia cannot be prevented.

    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

    Health Canada
    https://www.canada.ca

    References

    Autoimmune hemolytic anemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/autoimmune-hemolytic-anemia. Accessed May 13, 2022.

    Autoimmune hemolytic anemia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology-and-oncology/anemias-caused-by-hemolysis/autoimmune-hemolytic-anemia. Accessed May 13, 2022.