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. 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 destruction of RBCs. It can be a serious, fatal condition that requires care from a doctor.
This type of anemia is caused by a problem with the immune system. For some reason, the immune system starts to make antibodies that attack red blood cells. Medicine or other illnesses may cause this change in the immune system.
Factors that may increase the risk of developing autoimmune hemolytic anemia include:
Symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Anemia may be suspected based on symptoms. Blood and urine tests will be used to look for RBCs and signs of damage to cells.
Mild cases of anemia may not need treatment. They may get better on their own. Treatment options include the following:
The spleen is a small organ near the stomach. It helps to clear out old and damaged RBCs. Anemia can cause an enlargement of the spleen. This can then make anemia worse. The spleen may need to be removed if it is causing problems.
There are no steps to prevent autoimmune hemolytic anemia.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated August 7, 2019. Accessed September 9, 2019.
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
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Updated March 2019. Accessed September 9, 2019.
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 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 9/9/2019
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