Hemolytic Anemia

What is hemolytic anemia?

Hemolytic anemia is a sub-type of anemia, a common blood disorder that occurs when the body has fewer red blood cells than normal. In hemolytic anemias, the low red blood cell count is caused by the destruction — rather than the underproduction — of red blood cells. It occurs when red blood cells are destroyed faster than the bone marrow can make them. Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body.

Types of hemolytic anemia

There are two types of hemolytic anemia:

  • Inherited hemolytic anemia (also called intrinsic hemolytic anemia) is caused by a defect in the red blood cells themselves and result when one or more genes that control red blood cell production don’t function properly. With these conditions, red blood cells are destroyed earlier than normal.
  • Acquired hemolytic anemia (also called extrinsic hemolytic anemia) is caused by factors outside the red blood cell, such as antibodies from an autoimmune disorder, burns, or medications. In these conditions, red blood cells are usually healthy when they are produced by the bone marrow, but later they are destroyed directly in the bloodstream or get prematurely trapped and recycled in the spleen.

Types of inherited hemolytic anemia include:

Types of acquired hemolytic anemia include:

  • immune hemolytic anemia
  • autoimmunehemolytic anemia (AIHA)
  • alloimmune hemolytic anemia
  • drug-induced hemolytic anemia
  • mechanical hemolytic anemias
  • paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH)
  • malaria, babesiosis and other infectious anemias

How we care for hemolytic anemia

Children and young adults with hemolytic anemia are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through our Blood Disorders Center. Our program brings together world-renown pediatric hematology specialists and support staff from across Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s, including pediatric hematologist/oncologists, hematopathologists, hematology nurse practitioners, social workers and designated hematology patient coordinators. For many appointments and certain procedures, your child can also receive care at one of Boston Children's satellite offices.