Hemolytic Anemia: Signs and Treatment

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  • 0:06 Hemolytic Anemia
  • 1:03 Signs and Symptoms of…
  • 4:01 Treatment of Hemolytic Anemia
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Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

In hemolytic anemia, red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be replaced. Typical signs of anemia may be present as well as jaundice and upper abdominal pain. Treatment may include corticosteroids, surgery or a blood transfusion.

Hemolytic Anemia

What do you do when the tires on your car lose their tread and get worn down? You likely replace the old tires with brand new ones.

This is what your body does with old red blood cells. These cells are made in your bone marrow and then circulate through your bloodstream for about 120 days before they die and get taken out of circulation.

Now, what would you do if one of the new tires you just bought had a defect? I bet you would replace that tire, even though it was fairly new.

Well, your body does the same thing if one of the newer red blood cells it makes has a defect. But if your body has too many of these defective cells, then the red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be replaced, leaving you with a condition called hemolytic anemia. In this lesson, we will look at the signs and symptoms associated with this condition and how it is treated.

Signs and Symptoms of Hemolytic Anemia

The signs and symptoms of hemolytic anemia will vary based on the cause. Destruction of red blood cells is associated with a number of diseases and other factors, and these causes can be inherited, meaning the gene for the condition was passed down from parent to child, or acquired, meaning you developed the condition during your lifetime.

Signs and symptoms of hemolytic anemia will also depend on the severity of the disease. In fact, the disease can be so mild that no symptoms are present or it can be so severe that symptoms are debilitating or life-threatening.

Now, many of the signs and symptoms of hemolytic anemia are the same ones seen in all types of anemia. For example, any anemic patient could present with symptoms of fatigue, shortness of breath, pale skin, dizziness, headaches and cold hands and feet.

Why are these symptoms present? Well, if you think about it, anemia is diagnosed because there are too few red blood cells or too little hemoglobin. Because hemoglobin is found in red blood cells and it is the protein that transports oxygen, it would make sense that an anemic patient with too few of these oxygen-carrying cells would find it hard to breathe, feel tired, have pale skin, cold hands and feet, and that they might experience headaches and dizziness.

Great, let's take this one step farther and look at some other symptoms commonly seen in anemic patients. In these patients, we often see arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat, a heart murmur and an enlarged heart. Why? Well, if there are fewer red blood cells, then the heart has to work harder to get oxygen pushed around the body. This extra work makes the heart muscle grow or enlarge, just like your biceps will grow if you lift weights. But this extra work can also damage the heart, which is why arrhythmias and murmurs might develop.

So, we looked at the common signs that are possible in any patient with anemia, but what about a patient with hemolytic anemia? Will he or she have additional symptoms? Yes, this is possible. Yet, as we stated earlier, symptoms will vary from patient to patient. Having said that, a patient with hemolytic anemia could present with jaundice. This yellowing of the skin and eyes can result when the hemoglobin within the defective red blood cells gets broken down and disperses into the body. One of the byproducts of this breakdown is bilirubin, which is a yellowish pigment, the same one, by the way, that is responsible for the color of urine.

A patient with hemolytic anemia may also experience upper abdominal pain. You can understand this symptom if you think about the organs found in this area of the body and what they do. For instance, this is where the spleen is located, and the spleen will have to work overtime because one of its jobs is to filter out defective blood cells.

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