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Red blood cells, sickle cell
Red blood cells, sickle cell

Red blood cells, multiple sickle cells
Red blood cells, multiple sickle cells

Red blood cells, sickle cells
Red blood cells, sickle cells

Red blood cells, sickle and pappenheimer
Red blood cells, sickle and pappenheimer

Blood cells
Blood cells


Hemolytic anemia is a condition in which there are not enough red blood cells in the blood, due to the premature destruction of red blood cells. There are a number of specific types of hemolytic anemia, which are described individually.

Alternative Names:

Anemia - hemolytic

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Hemolytic anemia occurs when the bone marrow is unable to increase production to make up for the premature destruction of red blood cells. If the bone marrow is able to keep up with the early destruction, anemia does not occur (sometimes called compensated hemolysis).

There are many types of hemolytic anemia, which are classified by the reason for the premature destruction of red blood cells. The defect may be in the red blood cell itself (intrinsic factor ), or outside the red blood cell (extrinsic factors).

Intrinsic factors are often present at birth (hereditary). They include:

  • Abnormalities in the proteins that build normal red blood cells
  • Differences in the protein inside a red blood cell that carries oxygen (hemoglobin)

Extrinsic factors include:

  • Abnormal immune system responses
  • Blood clots in small blood vessels
  • Certain infections
  • Side effects from medications

Types of hemolytic anemia include:

Signs and tests:

These are tests for red blood cell destruction (hemolysis). Specific tests can identify the types of hemolytic anemia. They are usually performed when hemolysis is suspected or has been determined.

Directly measuring the red cell life span with radioactive tagging techniques shows a shortened life span.

This disease may also affect the following test results, depending on the specific cause:


Treatment depends on the type and cause of the hemolytic anemia. Folic acid , iron replacement, and corticosteroids may be used. In emergencies, a blood transfusion or removal of the spleen (splenectomy) may be necessary.

Support Groups:

Expectations (prognosis):

The outcome depends on the type and cause of hemolytic anemia.


The complications depend on the specific type of hemolytic anemia. Severe anemia can cause cardiovascular collapse. Severe anemias can aggravate heart disease, lung disease, or cerebrovascular disease .

Calling your health care provider:

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


There is no known prevention for hemolytic anemia.


Schwartz RS. Autoimmune and intravascular hemolytic anemias. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 164.

Review Date: 11/23/2008
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; 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., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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