Hemolytic anemia


Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues.

Normally, red blood cells last for about 120 days before the body gets rid of them. In hemolytic anemia, red blood cells in the blood are destroyed earlier than normal.

Alternative Names

Anemia - hemolytic


Hemolytic anemia occurs when the bone marrow is unable to replace the red blood cells that are being destroyed.

Immune hemolytic anemia occurs when the immune system mistakenly sees your own red blood cells as foreign substances. Antibodies then develop against the red blood cells. These antibodies attack the red blood cells and cause them to break down too early.

The body may also destroy red blood cells because of:

Other causes are:


You may not have symptoms if the anemia is mild. If the problem develops slowly, the first symptoms may be:

If the anemia gets worse, symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

A test called a complete blood count (CBC) can help diagnose anemia and offer some hints to the type and cause of the problem. Important parts of the CBC include red blood cell count (RBC), hemoglobin, and hematocrit (HCT).

These tests can identify the type of hemolytic anemia:

A test that measures how long red blood cells last using radioactive tagging techniques can also help diagnose hemolytic anemia.


Treatment depends on the type and cause of the hemolytic anemia. 

Rarely, the spleen may need to be removed, because it acts as a filter, removing abnormal cells from the blood.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome depends on the type and cause of hemolytic anemia. Severe anemia can make heart disease, lung disease, or cerebrovascular disease worse.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you develop symptoms of hemolytic anemia.


Schwartz RS. Autoimmune and intravascular hemolytic anemias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011: chap 163.

Powers A, Silberstein LE. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Shattil SS, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone;2008:chap 47.

Schrier SL, Price EA. Extrinsic nonimmune hemolytic anemias. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Shattil SS, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone;2008:chap 48.

Review Date: 2/7/2012
Reviewed By: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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