Hemolytic Anemia

What is Hemolytic Anemia?

Hemolytic anemia is a type of anemia in which there is an abnormal breakdown of red blood cells in the blood vessels or anywhere else in the body. Red blood cells provide oxygen to the tissues and have a 120-day lifecycle; in the case of hemolytic anemia, the red blood cells are destroyed a lot sooner.

It often occurs when the bone marrow is not able to replace the red blood cells that are being destroyed. The symptoms of hemolytic anemia are similar to other forms of anemia that include fatigue and shortness of breath; in addition, there could be jaundice, and the breakdown of red blood cells can lead to long-term complications such as gallstones and pulmonary hypertension.

There are many types of hemolytic anemia based on intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic factors are inherited factors that are often present at birth. These include abnormalities in proteins that build normal red blood cells and differences in the protein inside of a red blood cell that carries oxygen. Extrinsic factors include a faulty immune system, blood clots in small blood vessels, and side effects of medications or certain infections. The conditions develop slowly, and the symptoms can be mild or severe.

Intrinsic hemolytic anemia causes problems with hemoglobin, enzymes, and cell membranes that maintain healthy red blood cells. The abnormal cells tend to weaken and breakdown while moving through the blood stream and are eventually eliminated from the blood stream.
Sickle cell anemia is a serious type of inherited blood disease in which the body makes abnormal hemoglobin. The red blood cells in this case turn into crescent or sickle shapes, and die within 10 to 20 days. The bone marrow is unable to make new red blood cells fast enough to replace the dying cells.

Other types of hemolytic anemia are hereditary spherocytosis in which the blood cells turn into sphere or ball shape. Their life span is very short. Hereditary elliptocytosis involves problems in the cell membrane, causing the red blood cells to become elliptical in shape.

There are various other types of anemia which are caused by certain medication like penicillin, quinine, anti-malarial drugs, acetaminophen, or even toxic chemicals and snake venom.