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Hemolytic Anemias

Discover the causes, symptoms, and treatments of Hemolytic Anemias, a mysterious condition that affects red blood cells and can dramatically impact one's health.

USMLE Guide: Hemolytic Anemias


Hemolytic anemias are a group of disorders characterized by the destruction of red blood cells (hemolysis) at a rate higher than their production. This results in a decreased number of functional red blood cells, leading to anemia. In this guide, we will discuss the different types, causes, clinical features, and diagnostic approaches for hemolytic anemias.

Types of Hemolytic Anemias

  1. Intrinsic Hemolytic Anemias

    a. Hereditary Spherocytosis b. Hereditary Elliptocytosis c. Hereditary Pyropoikilocytosis d. Hereditary Stomatocytosis e. paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) f. Enzyme Deficiencies (e.g., Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase Deficiency, Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency)

  2. Extrinsic Hemolytic Anemias

    a. Immune Hemolytic Anemias (e.g., Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia, Alloimmune Hemolytic Anemia) b. Microangiopathic Hemolytic Anemias (e.g., Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome) c. Mechanical Hemolytic Anemias (e.g., Prosthetic Heart Valves, Microangiopathies) d. Infections (e.g., Malaria, Babesiosis) e. Toxins (e.g., Snake Venom) f. Drugs (e.g., Penicillin, Quinidine)

Clinical Features

  1. General Symptoms

    • Fatigue
    • Pale skin (pallor)
    • Weakness
    • Shortness of breath
    • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  2. Specific Symptoms

    • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
    • Dark urine (hemoglobinuria)
    • Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly)
    • Gallstones (due to increased bilirubin production)

Diagnostic Approach

  1. Initial Evaluation

    • Complete blood count (CBC) to assess anemia severity and red blood cell indices
    • Peripheral blood smear to examine red blood cell morphology
    • Reticulocyte count to evaluate bone marrow response
  2. Additional Tests

    • Direct Coombs test to detect immune-mediated hemolysis
    • Indirect Coombs test to identify antibodies against red blood cells
    • Hemoglobin electrophoresis to diagnose hemoglobinopathies
    • Enzyme assays to detect enzyme deficiencies
    • Haptoglobin level to assess for hemolysis and hepatic function
    • Serum LDH (lactate dehydrogenase) level to evaluate hemolysis severity
  3. Further Evaluation

    • If initial tests are inconclusive, consider bone marrow examination or genetic testing for specific hemolytic anemias.

Treatment Options

  1. Supportive Measures

    • Folate supplementation to support red blood cell production
    • Blood transfusions to correct anemia and provide symptomatic relief
    • Iron chelation therapy in cases of iron overload
  2. Specific Treatments

    • Splenectomy for conditions with spleen involvement (e.g., hereditary spherocytosis, hereditary elliptocytosis)
    • Immunosuppressive therapy for immune-mediated hemolytic anemias
    • Eculizumab for Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria (PNH)
    • Avoidance of triggers (e.g., drugs, toxins, infections)


Hemolytic anemias encompass a diverse group of disorders characterized by increased destruction of red blood cells. Understanding the different types, clinical features, and diagnostic approaches is essential for effective management. Treatment strategies focus on supportive measures and specific interventions based on the underlying cause.

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