Hemolytic anemia is a disorder in which red blood cells are destroyed at a faster rate than they can be made again. The destruction of red blood cells is called as hemolysis.
The basic function of red blood cells is to carry oxygen to all parts of your body. If you have a lower amount of blood cells than normal, you have anemia.
When you have anemia, your blood can not bring enough oxygen to all your tissues and organs. Without enough oxygen, your body can’t work as well as it should.
Hemolytic anemia can be either inherited or acquired:
- Inherited hemolytic anemia occurs when parents transmits the gene for the condition on to their children.
- Acquired hemolytic anemia is not something you are born with. You develop the condition later.
What causes hemolytic anemia?
There are 2 main types of hemolytic anemia: inherited and acquired. Various diseases, conditions, or factors can cause each type:
- Inherited - With the inherited anemia type, parents give the genes for the condition on to their children. Two common causes of this type of anemia are sickle cell anemia and thalassemia. These types of conditions make red blood cells that don’t live as long as normal red blood cells.
- Acquired - With this kind of acquired anemia, you are not born with a certain condition. Your body makes normal red blood cells, but they are later destroyed.
This may happen because of:
- Specific infections, which may be viral or bacterial
- Medications, like penicillin, anti-malarial medicines, sulfa medicines, or acetaminophen
- Blood cancers
- Autoimmune diseases, like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or ulcerative colitis
- Certain tumors
- An overactive spleen (hypersplenism)
- Mechanical heart valves that may damage red blood cells as they leave the heart
- A major reaction to a blood transfusion
How is hemolytic anemia diagnosed?
Your doctor may believe that you are suffering from hemolytic anemia based on your symptoms, your medical history, and a physical exam. Your doctor may also order the following tests:
- Complete blood count (CBC) - This test measures many parts of your blood.
- Other blood tests - If the CBC test shows that you have anemia, some of the other blood tests will be done. These can find out what type of anemia you have and how serious it is.
- Urine test - This can examine for hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells) and iron.
- Bone marrow aspiration or biopsy - This includes taking a small sample of bone marrow fluid (aspiration) or solid bone marrow tissue (called a core biopsy). The sample is generally taken from the hip bones. It is checked for the number, size, and maturity of blood cells or abnormal cells.
What are the symptoms of hemolytic anemia?
Each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms of hemolytic anemia may include:
- Not normal paleness or lack of color of the skin
- Yellowish skin, eyes, and mouth (jaundice)
- Dark-colored urine
- Can’t handle physical activity
- Enlarged spleen and liver
- Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
- Heart murmur
The symptoms of hemolytic anemia may look like other blood conditions or health problems. Always visit your doctor to have a diagnosis.
How is hemolytic anemia treated?
Your doctor will create a treatment plan based on:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- How sick you are
- The cause of the disease
- How well you take up some medicines, treatments, or therapies
- If you know that your condition is expected to get worse
- Your opinion or preference
The treatment for hemolytic anemia will vary depending on the cause of the illness. Treatment may include:
- Blood transfusions
- Corticosteroid medicines
- Treatment to strengthen your immune system (using intravenous immune globulin)
In more severe cases, the following treatments may be needed:
- Surgery to remove the spleen
- Medicine to reduce the strength of your immune system (immunosuppressive therapy)