People who have mild hemolytic anemia may not need treatment, as long as the condition doesn't worsen. People who have severe hemolytic anemia usually need ongoing treatment. Severe hemolytic anemia can be fatal if it's not properly treated.
Goals of Treatment
The goals of treating hemolytic anemia include:
- Reducing or stopping the destruction of red blood cells
- Increasing the red blood cell count to an acceptable level
- Treating the underlying cause of the condition
Treatment will depend on the type, cause, and severity of the hemolytic anemia you have. Your doctor also will consider your age, overall health, and medical history.
If you have an inherited form of hemolytic anemia, it's a lifelong condition that may require ongoing treatment. If you have an acquired form of hemolytic anemia, it may go away if its cause can be found and corrected.
Blood transfusions are used to treat severe or life-threatening hemolytic anemia.
A blood transfusion is a common procedure in which blood is given to you through an intravenous (IV) line in one of your blood vessels. Transfusions require careful matching of donated blood with the recipient's blood.
For more information, go to the Health Topics Blood Transfusion article.
Medicines can improve some types of hemolytic anemia, especially autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA). Corticosteroid medicines, such as prednisone, can stop your immune system from, or limit its ability to, make antibodies (proteins) against red blood cells.
If you don't respond to corticosteroids, your doctor may prescribe other medicines to suppress your immune system. Examples include the medicines rituximab and cyclosporine.
If you have severe sickle cell anemia, your doctor may recommend a medicine called hydroxyurea. This medicine prompts your body to make fetal hemoglobin. Fetal hemoglobin is the type of hemoglobin that newborns have.
In people who have sickle cell anemia, fetal hemoglobin helps prevent red blood cells from sickling and improves anemia.
Plasmapheresis is a procedure that removes antibodies from the blood. For this procedure, blood is taken from your body using a needle inserted into a vein.
The plasma, which contains the antibodies, is separated from the rest of the blood. Then, plasma from a donor and the rest of the blood is put back in your body.
This treatment may help if other treatments for immune hemolytic anemia don't work.
Some people who have hemolytic anemia may need surgery to remove their spleens. The spleen is an organ in the abdomen. A healthy spleen helps fight infection and filters out old or damaged blood cells.
An enlarged or diseased spleen may remove more red blood cells than normal, causing anemia. Removing the spleen can stop or reduce high rates of red blood cell destruction.
Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplant
In some types of hemolytic anemia, such as thalassemias, the bone marrow doesn't make enough healthy red blood cells. The red blood cells it does make may be destroyed before their normal lifespan is over. Blood and marrow stem cell transplants may be used to treat these types of hemolytic anemia.
A blood and marrow stem cell transplant replaces damaged stem cells with healthy ones from another person (a donor).
During the transplant, which is like a blood transfusion, you get donated stem cells through a tube placed in a vein. Once the stem cells are in your body, they travel to your bone marrow and begin making new blood cells.
For more information, go to the Health Topics Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplant article.
If you have AIHA with cold-reactive antibodies, try to avoid cold temperatures. This can help prevent the breakdown of red blood cells. It's very important to protect your fingers, toes, and ears from the cold.
To protect yourself, you can:
- Wear gloves or mittens when taking food out of the refrigerator or freezer.
- Wear a hat, scarf, and a coat with snug cuffs during cold weather.
- Turn down air conditioning or dress warmly while in air-conditioned spaces.
- Warm up the car before driving in cold weather.
People born with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency can avoid substances that may trigger anemia. For example, avoid fava beans, naphthalene (a substance found in some moth balls), and certain medicines (as your doctor advises).