The breakdown of red blood cells is called Hemolysis. Literally speaking, hemo means blood and lysis means breakdown. Some diseases, medicines, and toxins may cause red blood cells to break down more quickly than usual. Red blood cells normally live for 110 to 120 days. After that, they naturally break down and are most often removed from the circulation by the spleen.
Causes of hemoloysis
However, some diseases and processes cause red blood cells to break down too soon which is called hemolysis. This requires the bone marrow to make more red blood cells than normal. The balance between red blood cell breakdown and production determines how low the red blood cell count becomes.
Conditions causing hemoloysis
Conditions that can cause hemolysis include:
- Immune reactions
- Some medicines
- Toxins and poisons
Symptoms of Hemolysis
You may not have symptoms if the anemia is mild. If the problem develops slowly, the first symptoms may be:
- Feeling weak or tired more often than usual, or with exercise
- Feelings that your heart is pounding or racing
- Problems concentrating or thinking
If the anemia gets worse, symptoms may include:
- Lightheadedness when you stand up
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Sore tongue
- Enlarged spleen
Hemolytic crisis occurs when large numbers of red blood cells are destroyed over a short time. The loss of red blood cells occurs much faster than the body can produce new red blood cells. During a hemolytic crisis, the body cannot make enough red blood cells to replace those that are destroyed. This causes acute and often severe anemia. The part of red blood cells that carries oxygen called hemoglobin is released into the bloodstream. This can lead to kidney damage.
Diagnosis of Hemolytic Anemia
Hemolysis can lead to hemolytic anemia. When your condition is stable, your provider will perform a physical examination and ask about your medical history and symptoms. The physical exam may show swelling of the spleen (splenomegaly). Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues.
Tests that may be done include:
- Blood chemistry panel
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Coombs test
- Haptoglobin blood and urine
- Kidney or abdominal CT scan
- Kidney or abdominal ultrasound
Treatment of Hemolylis
Outcome depends on the type and cause of hemolytic anemia. Severe anemia can make heart disease, lung disease, or cerebrovascular disease worse.