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Hemolytic Anemia


What is hemolytic anemia?

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

What causes hemolytic anemia?

Your hemolytic anemia may be caused by any of the following:

  • 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 and 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
  • Infections, such as mononucleosis or hepatitis
  • Certain cancers, such as leukemia or lymphoma

What are the signs and symptoms of hemolytic anemia?

  • You feel tired and weak.
  • You are dizzy or cannot think clearly.
  • You have a fever.
  • You are short of breath when you exercise.
  • Your heart beats faster than normal for you.
  • Your skin is pale.
  • Your skin and eyes look yellow, and you have dark urine. These are signs of jaundice. Jaundice happens when hemolytic anemia is severe.

How is hemolytic anemia diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your medical history and examine you. You may also need a blood test so your caregiver knows your RBC level and can plan your treatment.

How is hemolytic anemia treated?

Your treatment will depend on what caused your hemolytic anemia. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines:
    • Bone marrow stimulants: These medicines are also called growth factor medicines. They help trigger your bone marrow to start making new RBCs, WBCs, and platelets.
    • Immunosuppressants: These medicines help prevent the body from attacking its own bone marrow. This may help the bone marrow make more blood cells.
  • Blood transfusion: You may need one or more blood transfusions to replace blood you have lost.
  • Surgery: Your spleen may get larger as it works harder to remove broken down RBCs. As the spleen gets larger, even more RBCs are broken down. When this happens, you may need surgery to remove your spleen.

What are the risks of hemolytic anemia?

You could have a bad reaction to a blood transfusion, such as a seizure. Treatments may be slow to work, or may not work at all. Without treatment, hemolytic anemia can be life-threatening. Ask your caregiver for more information about the risks of hemolytic anemia.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • 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.

When should I seek immediate help?

Seek help immediately or call 911 if:

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

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 caregivers 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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