Causes Of Acquired Hemolytic Anemia

September 18, 2023

Acquired hemolytic anemia is the kind of anemia individuals are not born with but have acquired either by a disease or other trigger. Anemia destroys the oxygen-carrying red blood cells faster than the bone marrow can replace them. Typically, red blood cells are meant to last as many as 120 days in the system, but when you are anemic, these red blood cells may only last for a few days. When either the supply or quality of those red blood cells is compromised by anemia, we may find ourselves short of breath or tired from muscle fatigue when performing a physical activity because we can’t get enough oxygen. The causes of acquired hemolytic anemia may be temporary and curable when a doctor can identify and treat the cause. Discover some of the common causes of this disease now.


Through a Coombs test, clinicians can accurately determine if your red blood cells carry the chemicals that cue the spleen to incorrectly recognize them as the 'enemy,' thus subjecting them to autoimmune destruction. Acquired hemolytic anemia can occur because of cancer, specifically chronic lymphocytic leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Symptoms include weakness, fatigue, itching, abdominal pain, weight loss, and night sweats. Upon physical examination, diagnosticians may appreciate an enlarged spleen in the patient with leukemia or lymphoma.

As the disease progresses, cancerous cells may invade the lymph nodes, the intestinal tract, lungs, and kidneys. These symptoms may be complicated by the signs of anemia, which include fatigue, rapid heart rate, chest pain, dizziness, pale color, shortness of breath, chills, backache, and dark urine. With any of these debilitating symptoms, it is wise to be examined by a physician and a hematologist to detect and catch these conditions to receive treatment sooner rather than later.

Continue to learn about another common cause of acquired hemolytic anemia.

Certain Medicines

Acquired hemolytic anemia is not always the result of an autoimmune disorder. In some cases, certain commonly used medicines can cause the condition, including anti-inflammatory medicines, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and antibiotics such as penicillin, ampicillin, and methicillin.

Other medications that can cause acquired hemolytic anemia include interferon alpha, used to modulate immune system response to viruses, bacteria cancer, and other foreign invaders to the body; methyldopa, an antihypertensive medication; and quinine, used to treat malaria and babesiosis. Doctors have also pointed to procainamide, used for the treatment of cardiac arrhythmias; rifampin, an antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis; levodopa, for treating Parkinson’s disease; and chemotherapy as causes as well.

Receiving a blood transfusion with the wrong blood type is one cause of the most severe forms of acquired hemolytic anemia, which is why it is crucial to type and match the blood before performing a transfusion. If medication is the cause of acquired hemolytic anemia, you most likely will stop taking the medication. In mild cases, you may not require any other treatment.

Doctors may recommend steroids, such as prednisone or hydrocortisone, to curb the attack on the red blood cells by the immune system. Certain medicines, such as azathioprine or cyclophosphamide, can be given to help calm the immune system as well. If you are not responding to the corticosteroids, your doctor may suggest other remedies to suppress the immune system, such as rituximab and cyclosporine.

Get to know the next causes of acquired hemolytic anemia by reading more now.

Specific Viruses

Normally, the immune system makes proteins called antibodies to launch the attack on foreign invaders within the body, such as bacteria or viruses. Having certain diseases or specific viruses can raise your risk for acquired hemolytic anemia, such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), cytomegalovirus, hepatitis, and human immunodeficiency virus. In these cases, the body makes antibodies that mistakenly attack your supply of red blood cells.

EBV has become a common infection and affects as much as ninety-five percent of adults throughout the world at some time in their lives. It is typically asymptomatic leading to the clinical syndrome called infectious mononucleosis, which rarely produces complications. In some cases, however, patients may be faced with life-threatening autoimmune hemolytic anemia in association with an Epstein-Barr virus infection. It is important to seek diagnosis and treatment for both simple and complicated EBV infections.

Continue reading now to learn about the next cause of acquired hemolytic anemia.

Some Infections

Acquired autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) accounts for half of the cases of acquired hemolytic anemia and may come on quickly and become a serious condition. Some infections can increase your risk for AIHA, including mycoplasma pneumoniae, sometimes called 'walking pneumonia,' which can cause or worsen hemolytic anemia; as well as malaria and one of its most dangerous complications called blackwater fever that brings on a rapidly developing anemia. Also watch for tick-borne diseases such as babesiosis, with its microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells, and septicemia, a form of blood poisoning that may arise from toxins or bacterial infection.

Some snake venom contains hemolytic toxins, but many toxins and chemicals can enter the bloodstream through the skin without a prick, puncture, or bite. While there are too many to list, it is wise to consider some of the products you might use every day without thinking of how their contents may enter the bloodstream through skin absorption such as lotions, creams, oils, talc-based powders, hair care products, nail polish, bubble baths, fragrances, and deodorants. It is vital to read the labels of products to avoid toxic ones.

Managing the underlying illness may be the first treatment. In severe cases of anemia, you may require a blood transfusion, although this is only a temporary treatment. Steroids are most often the first treatment for symptoms if they get worse. If steroids fail to work, your doctor may surgically remove the spleen, the primary source of red blood cell destruction. If spleen removal fails to work, doctors may suggest patients take immunosuppressants to prevent the proteins produced in the system that attack the red blood cells. However, these medications leave patients vulnerable to infections. Your doctor will weigh the risks versus the benefits when deciding on which medication to suggest.

Continue reading to understand more about what can cause hemolytic anemia now.

Autoimmune Disorders

With immune system disorders, the body can experience either low activity or over activity within the immune system. In cases of overactivity, the body launches attacks against itself, damaging precious body tissues. The triggers may be unknown, for the most part. Such autoimmune diseases leave the body vulnerable to infections. Treatments tend to focus on reducing this self-attack on the body.

Some of the autoimmune disorders that can cause acquired hemolytic anemia include rheumatoid arthritis; inflammatory bowel disease (IBD); multiple sclerosis; and Type 1 diabetes mellitus, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. But these are not all. Other conditions to watch for include chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), a neurological disorder; psoriasis, a skin disorder; Graves' disease, also called hyperthyroidism; Hashimoto's thyroiditis, which can lead to hypothyroidism; Myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular disease; and vasculitis, a condition that causes inflammation of the blood vessels.

Treatment of the underlying disorder most often improves the condition of anemia. It may vary and can include taking oral synthetic hormone pills, prednisone, or other corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, surgery, or plasmapheresis. In more severe cases, patients may be treated with oral or Intravenous hydrocortisone treatments followed by oral doses of prednisone.

For some patients, acquired hemolytic anemia will clear up on its own without the need for treatment, but for others, it can present a long-term problem that can come and go over the years. Your doctor can help with diagnosis and treatment for the best outlook.

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