Hemolytic Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you do not have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body. Hemolytic anemia occurs when your red blood cells are being destroyed faster than they are being produced. Hemolytic anemia can affect people of all ages. It may worsen existing heart or lung disease. There are 2 types of hemolytic anemia:

  • Intrinsic hemolytic anemia. The destruction of red blood cells is due to a defect in the red blood cells themselves.

  • Extrinsic hemolytic anemia. Healthy red blood cells are produced, but they are destroyed by certain medicines or infection.


Hemolytic anemia occurs when the bone marrow cannot produce red blood cells fast enough to replace those being destroyed. The destruction of red blood cells is called hemolysis. There are many causes of hemolysis, including:

  • Inherited problems, such as sickle cell anemia.

  • Taking certain medicines.

  • Infections in the bloodstream, such as:

  • Hepatitis.

  • Cytomegalovirus.

  • Malaria.

  • Certain viral infections.

  • Epstein-Barr virus.

  • Typhoid fever.

  • Streptococcus.

  • Escherichia coli (E. coli).

Sometimes the cause is unknown.


Certain factors can increase your risk for hemolytic anemia. These risk factors include:

  • Inherited disorders. These include hereditary spherocytosis, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency, sickle cell anemia, and thalassemia.

  • Leukemia or lymphoma.

  • Using certain medicines, such as penicillin, antimalaria drugs, sulfa, or acetaminophen.

  • Various tumors.

  • Family history of hemolytic anemia.

  • Blood infections (septicemia).

  • Exposure to toxic chemicals.

  • Exposure to excessive radiation.


  • Pale skin, eyes, and fingernails.

  • Irregular or fast heartbeat.

  • Headaches.

  • Fatigue and weakness.

  • Dizziness or fainting.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice).

  • Cold hands and feet.


Your caregiver will do a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms. Blood tests and other lab tests may be done to help find the cause of your anemia.


Treatment depends on the cause of your anemia. Treatment may include:

  • Getting new medicines.

  • Blood transfusions.

  • Gamma globulin injections.

  • Steroids.

  • Stopping medicines that may be the cause of your anemia.

  • Surgery to remove the spleen.

  • Antibiotics to treat blood infections.

If you have a family history of hemolytic anemia, you may decide to seek genetic counseling before having children.


  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines as directed by your caregiver.

  • Take over-the-counter iron pills as directed by your caregiver.

  • Eat an iron-rich diet as directed by your caregiver. Foods that contain a large amount of iron include:

  • Red meats.

  • Beans.

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach.

  • Nuts and seeds.

  • Dried fruit.

  • Iron-fortified cereals.

  • If you are given antibiotics, take them as directed. Finish them even if you start to feel better.

  • Keep all follow-up appointments with your caregiver as directed.


  • You become dizzy or tired easily.

  • Your skin looks pale.

  • You develop an irregular or fast heartbeat.


  • Your skin and eyes turn yellow.

  • You develop chest pains.

  • You become short of breath.

  • You faint.

  • You develop an uncontrolled cough.


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.