Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
by Ricker Polsdorfer, MD
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.
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:
Factors that may increase your risk of developing autoimmune hemolytic anemia include:
Symptoms may include:
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:
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.
Cortisone-like drugs suppress the immune response. These drugs usually improve the more common types of autoimmune hemolytic anemia.
Other Immunosuppressive Drugs
Other drugs that suppress the immune system may be used if corticosteroids are not effective.
The spleen removes abnormal red cells from the circulation, including those labeled with antibodies. A splenectomy can preserve those cells and prevent anemia.
You will need transfusions if your blood gets too anemic.
There are no current guildelines to prevent autoimmune hemolytic anemia because are multiple causes.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders
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:
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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 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 8/28/2014
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