Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBC). 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.
Red Blood Cells
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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:
Collagen-vascular (autoimmune) diseases such as lupus
Factors that may increase your risk of developing autoimmune hemolytic anemia include:
- Recent viral infections
- Taking medications that can cause autoimmune hemolytic anemia
- Cancer or leukemia
- Collagen-vascular (autoimmune) disease
- Family history of hemolytic disease
Symptoms may include:
- Dark brown urine
Yellow or pale skin
- Muscle pains
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medications, and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a hematologist who is a doctor who specializes in blood and blood-forming tissues.
Your bodiliy 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 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 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. Removing the spleen can preserve those cells and prevent anemia.
You will need transfusions if your blood gets too anemic.
It is not possible to prevent autoimmune hemolytic anemia. It has multiple causes.
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 2, 2013. Accessed August 28, 2014.
Dhaliwal G, Cornett PA, Tierney LM Jr. Hemolytic anemia.
Am Fam Physician. 2004;69:2599-2606.
Lechner K, Jäger U. How I treat autoimmune hemolytic anemias in adults.
Blood. 2010 Sep 16;116(11):1831-8.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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