Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia
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
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 that increase your chance of developing autoimmune hemolytic anemia include:
- Recent viral infections
- Current medications that can cause autoimmune hemolytic anemia
- Cancer or leukemia
- Collagen-vascular (autoimmune) disease
- Family history of hemolytic disease
If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume the cause is due to autoimmune hemolytic anemia. These symptoms may be caused by many other health conditions.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medications, and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in blood and blood-forming tissues (a hematologist).
Tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
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. These include azathioprine and cyclophosphamide. Rituximab is another drug that has shown promise in treating this condition.
The spleen removes abnormal red cells from the circulation, including those labeled with antibodies. Removing the spleen can preserve those cells and prevent anemia.
It is not possible to prevent autoimmune hemolytic anemia. It has multiple causes.
American Academy of Family Physicians
National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.
Canadian Family Physician
Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders (CORD)
Autoimmune hemolytic anemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 10, 2012. Accessed November 12, 2012.
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Lechner K, Jäger U. How I treat autoimmune hemolytic anemias in adults. Blood. 2010 Sep 16;116(11):1831-8.
Kasper DL et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 16th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2005.
Last reviewed November 2012 by Kari Kassir, 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.