Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

What is Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia?

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) is a condition in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys its own red blood cells (RBCs). It is an acquired autoimmune disorder that is often associated with other autoimmune conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), or rheumatoid arthritis. AIHA may also be caused by medications, such as penicillin or sulfa-based antibiotics, or may be idiopathic with no clear cause.

Symptoms of AIHA

The primary symptom of AIHA is anemia, which is associated with fatigue, shortness of breath, paleness, cold hands and feet, rapid heart rate, and other symptoms. As the condition progresses, symptoms may include jaundice (yellowing of the skin), as red blood cells break down faster than they can be replaced, resulting in excess of bilirubin in the blood.

Diagnosis of AIHA

Diagnosis of AIHA typically begins with a physical examination, followed by a complete blood count (CBC) to determine if anemia is present. Additional tests to look for the presence of autoantibodies or other markers characteristic of autoimmune disorders can also be performed. Treatment is based on the cause and type of AIHA and can include medications, blood transfusions, and sometimes immunotherapy.

Treatments for AIHA

Treatment options vary depending on the type and cause of AIHA. Treatments may include:

  • Corticosteroids (prednisone) to suppress the immune system and reduce red blood cell destruction
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) to help suppress the immune response
  • Blood transfusions to replace destroyed red blood cells
  • Splenectomy (surgical removal of the spleen) to reduce red blood cell destruction
  • Medications to suppress the immune system