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Hemolytic Anemia

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What is hemolytic anemia?

Hemolytic anemia is a condition that causes your red blood cells to die sooner than normal. Your bone marrow cannot make new red blood cells fast enough to replace the cells that have died. Hemolytic anemia can be a short-term or long-term problem.

What causes hemolytic anemia?

  • A disease you were born with, such as sickle cell anemia or thalassemia
  • Certain medicines, such as antibiotics, antimalaria medicine, or acetaminophen
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as arsenic or lead
  • An autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
  • An organ transplant
  • A bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant, a blood transfusion, or dialysis
  • An artificial device, such as a heart valve
  • An infection, such as mononucleosis or hepatitis
  • Certain cancers, such as leukemia or lymphoma

What are the signs and symptoms of hemolytic anemia?

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Dizziness or trouble thinking clearly
  • Unusual shortness of breath when you exercise
  • A faster heartbeat than usual
  • Pale skin
  • Yellow skin and eyes, and dark urine

How is hemolytic anemia diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and examine you. You may also need a blood test so your healthcare provider knows your red blood cell level. Treatment will depend on what caused your hemolytic anemia. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to help trigger your bone marrow to start making new red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Platelets are the sticky part of your blood that helps form clots to stop bleeding. You may also need medicines to help prevent your body from attacking its own bone marrow. This may help the bone marrow make more blood cells.
  • A blood transfusion may be needed to replace blood you have lost. You may need more than one transfusion.
  • A bone marrow or stem cell transplant is a procedure used to replace your stem cells with healthy cells. Stem cells are the part of the bone marrow that make red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The transplanted stem cells return to the bone marrow, grow, and start producing new blood cells.
  • Surgery may be used remove your spleen if it gets too large. Your spleen may get larger as it works harder to remove broken down red blood cells. As the spleen gets larger, even more cells are broken down.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to manage hemolytic anemia?

  • Rest as much as possible. Hemolytic anemia can cause you to feel more tired than usual.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. This may help you have more energy and heal faster. Healthy foods include fruit, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meat, and fish. Ask your healthcare provider if you need to be on a special diet.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink and which liquids are best for you. For most people, good liquids are water, juice, and milk.
  • Exercise as directed. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise can decrease your blood pressure and improve your health.

Call 911 if:

  • You have chest pain.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have shortness of breath, even when you rest.
  • You have trouble thinking clearly.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever, muscle aches, a cough, or sore throat.
  • You have signs of infection, such as redness, pain, or swelling in any part of your body.
  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash. Your medicine may be causing these symptoms.
  • You have blood in your urine.
  • You are dizzy or more tired than usual.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.