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Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

(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. 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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  • Causes

    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:
  • Risk Factors

    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

    Symptoms may include:
    • 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, medications, and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a hematologist who is a doctor that specializes in blood and blood-forming tissues.
    Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
    • Blood tests
    • Urine tests
  • Treatment

    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. Removing the spleen can preserve those cells and prevent anemia.
    You will need transfusions if your blood gets too anemic.
  • Prevention

    It is not possible to prevent autoimmune hemolytic anemia. It has multiple causes.

    Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians

    National Organization for Rare Disorders


    Canadian Family Physician

    Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders


    Autoimmune hemolytic anemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 7, 2015. Accessed September 23, 2015.

    Dhaliwal G, Cornett PA, et al. 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):1831-1838.

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