What Is Hemolytic Anemia? Anemia is when the number of red blood cells in the body gets too low. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen throughout the body. Without enough red blood cells, oxygen doesn't get to the body's organs. Without enough oxygen, the organs can't work normally. Hemolytic (hee-muh-LIT-ik) anemia is a type of anemia that happens when red blood cells break down faster than the body can make them. Depending on the type of hemolytic anemia, symptoms can be mild or very severe. There are treatments that can help. What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Hemolytic Anemia? Symptoms of hemolytic anemia may be mild and slowly get worse, or become severe quickly. Someone with hemolytic anemia might: look pale seem moody be very tired feel dizzy or lightheaded have a fast heartbeat breathe fast or feel short of breath have jaundice (yellow skin and eyes) have an enlarged spleen have dark, tea-colored pee What Causes Hemolytic Anemia? There are many different causes for hemolytic anemia. Some causes are inherited (passed from parents to children) and some are not. The inherited hemolytic anemias include: sickle cell anemia G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) deficiency PK (pyruvate kinase) deficiency hereditary spherocytosis hereditary elliptocytosis (ovalocytosis) thalassemias Hemolytic anemias that are not inherited include: autoimmune hemolytic anemia: This happens when the infection-fighting immune system attacks red blood cells. Some medicines or an infection can trigger this as well some autoimmune diseases like lupus. mechanical hemolytic anemia: This happens when something destroys red blood cells, such as: a heart/lung bypass machine (ECMO) an artificial heart valve walking or running for a long time (called "march hemoglobinuria") abnormal blood vessels (microangiopathic hemolytic anemia) cancer chemicals such as lead, arsenic, and snake venom How Is Hemolytic Anemia Diagnosed? Doctors usually can diagnose hemolytic anemia by: asking about symptoms asking if any family members have anemia doing an exam doing blood tests to: look at the red blood cells with a microscope look for antibodies to see if the immune system is attacking them check how fast the body is making new red blood cells look for signs that many red blood cells are breaking down check for any inherited anemias using specialized testing, sometimes genetic testing How Is Hemolytic Anemia Treated? Treatment for hemolytic anemia depends on the cause. A hematologist (a doctor who treats blood problems) helps children with hemolytic anemia get the treatment they need. These treatments may include: blood transfusions (giving the child donated red blood cells) antibodies given through a vein (intravenous immunoglobulin, IVIG) medicines (often steroids) and antibodies to weaken the immune system's attack on red blood cells removal of the spleen (splenectomy) treatment with folic acid How Can Parents Help? Sometimes hemolytic anemia goes away with treatment and never comes back. But in some children, it causes ongoing medical problems. Many of these are treatable. The hematologist can help parents understand the details of their child's hemolytic anemia and recommend the best treatment. If your child has hemolytic anemia, you can help by: taking your child to all doctor's appointments following the doctor's recommendations Back to Articles Related Articles Anemia Anemia happens when there aren't enough healthy red blood cells in the body. It can be caused by many things, including dietary problems, medical treatments, and inherited conditions. Read More Anemia Anemia is common in teens because they undergo rapid growth spurts, when the body needs more nutrients like iron. Learn about anemia and how it's treated. Read More Aplastic Anemia Aplastic anemia happens when the body can't make enough blood cells. A person can develop anemia, infections, and bleeding. Treatments can help with most kinds of aplastic anemia. Read More Iron-Deficiency Anemia Iron helps the body carry oxygen in the blood and plays a key role in brain and muscle function. Too little iron can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. Read More What's Anemia? What does it mean when a kid has anemia? Learn about anemia, why kids get it, and how it's treated in our article for kids. Read More Alpha Thalassemia Alpha thalassemia is a blood disorder in which the body has a problem producing alpha globin, a component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. Read More Beta Thalassemia Beta thalassemia is a blood disorder in which the body has a problem producing beta globin, a component of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body. Read More Sickle Cell Disease Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder that makes red blood cells change shape and cause health problems. Find out how to help your child. Read More Sickle Cell Disease Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder that makes red blood cells change shape and cause health problems. Find out more in this article for teens. Read More Sickle Cell Disease Sickle cell disease is a disease of the blood. Red blood cells are shaped like sickles, and can get stuck, especially inside smaller blood vessels. Read More Hereditary Spherocytosis Hereditary spherocytosis is an inherited blood disorder. Treatments can help with symptoms. Read More Blood Test: Hemoglobin Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells. A hemoglobin test can be done as part of a routine checkup to screen for problems and or because a child isn't feeling well. Read More Blood Test: Ferritin (Iron) Doctors may order a ferritin test when they suspect kids have too little or too much iron in their bodies. Read More Blood Test: Reticulocyte Count This test measures the rate at which reticulocytes (immature red blood cells) are made in the bone marrow and enter the bloodstream. A reticulocyte count can provide information about a child's anemia. Read More G6PD Deficiency G6PD deficiency an inherited condition in which someone doesn't have enough of the enzyme G6PD, which protects red blood cells. Read More Blood Transfusions About 5 million people a year get blood transfusions in the United States. This article explains why people need them and who donates the blood used. Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. 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