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Autoimmune hemolytic anemia is a specific disorder that belongs to a group of disorders characterized by a malfunction of the immune system that produces autoantibodies, which attack red blood cells as if they were substances foreign to the body.

This can be caused directly by some drug, toxin, blood parasite virus or some other known cause, or it can be an unexplained immune mediated reaction.

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia is a very uncommon disorder that can occur at any age. It affects women more often than men. In approximately 50% of the cases the cause of autoimmune hemolytic anemia cannot be determined. It can also be caused by other diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, certain drugs such as penicillin etc.

Incidence

Hemolytic anemia represents approximately 5% of all anemias. The overall incidence of death is caused by this disorder is low. However, older patients and patients with cardiovascular impairment are at an increased risk. Most of the disorders that lead to hemolysis are not specific to any race or gender.

Signs and symptoms of autoimmune hemolytic anemia

Since there is often some kind of underlying disorder behind this type of anemia, symptoms are usually caused by both anaemia and the underlying disorder. It is also important to know that patients with minimal haemolytic anaemia can be asymptomatic.

Severe anaemia, especially of sudden onset, may cause:

  • tachycardia,
  • dyspnoea,
  • angina
  • weakness
  • tiredness
  • faintness
  • dizziness
  • general pallor and pale conjunctivae
  • tachycardia
  • tachypnoea – fast breathing
  • hypotension
  • mild jaundice may occur due to haemolysis.
  • dark urine

When destruction persists for a few months or longer, the spleen may enlarge, resulting in a sense of abdominal fullness and discomfort.

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