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What is hemolytic anemia?

Hemolytic anemia is a condition in which the blood has too few red blood cells because the red blood cells are destroyed before their normal 120-day lifespan, and before the body can make new red blood cells to replace them.

Red blood cells are produced in your bone marrow. Their job is to carry oxygen throughout your body and remove carbon dioxide from your body. In some cases, hemolytic anemia is caused by an inherited condition that causes a defect in the red blood cells themselves. This is called intrinsic hemolytic anemia.

In extrinsic hemolytic anemia, the cause is due to something outside of the red blood cells. Depending on the cause, the hemolytic anemia may be temporary and resolve over time, or cause flares and remissions of the condition. Possible extrinsic causes include:
  • exposure to chemicals, drugs or toxins
  • infections such as hepatitis, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, E.coli, typhoid or streptococcus
  • certain medications, such as penicillin, acetaminophen, sulfa drugs or antimalarial drugs
  • blood diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma
  • autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
  • an overactive spleen
Call your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms of hemolytic anemia:
  • pale skin
  • jaundice, or yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mouth
  • dark urine
  • fever
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • extreme fatigue
  • enlargement of the spleen and liver
  • rapid heart rate (tachycardia) or a heart murmur

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.