Definition

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.

Red Blood Cells
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Causes

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.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the risk of developing autoimmune hemolytic anemia include:

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 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.

Treatment

Mild cases of anemia may not need treatment. They may get better on their own. Treatment options include the following:

  • Treat the related cause. Anemia may pass or improve once the cause is managed. Medicine may need to be stopped or changed.
  • Slow or stop damage to RBCs by lowering immune system with:
    • Corticosteroids
    • Other long term medicine
  • Blood transfusion to quickly replace RBCs.

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.

Prevention

There are no steps to prevent autoimmune hemolytic anemia.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2019 -
  • Update Date: 09/09/2019 -