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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

Treatment

Treatment for hemolytic anemia depends on its cause and severity.

  • Inherited abnormalities in red cell membranes — If hemoglobin levels are adequate, you may not need treatment. If hemoglobin levels drop very low, a blood transfusion may be needed. In rare cases, the spleen is removed.

  • Inherited enzyme deficiencies inside red cells — Blood transfusions are necessary to treat severe symptoms.

  • Hemoglobin disorders — Treatment is not necessary if the illness is mild or does not cause any symptoms.

People with more severe forms of thalassemia require repeated blood transfusions. Some may be candidates for a bone marrow transplant.

Sickle cell anemia may be treated with:

  • folic acid supplements

  • blood transfusions

  • antibiotics

  • a drug called hydroxyurea (Hydrea)

  • Physical damage to red blood cells —This may be treated with folic acid and iron supplements. Blood transfusions may be necessary.

  • An autoimmune response — Treatment depends on the cause and severity. If a drug or infection is causing the anemia, it may be enough to stop the drug or recover from the infection.

    For more severe cases, treatment may include:

    • corticosteroid medication

    • intravenous immune globulin infusions

    • immunosuppressive drugs

    • removal of the spleen

  • Hypersplenism — For severe symptoms, the spleen is removed.

People with severe, chronic hemolytic anemia, especially those with sickle cell anemia or thalassemia, may require multiple blood transfusions. The iron in hemoglobin can accumulate in the body, causing iron overload and organ damage. Drugs called iron chelators, which bind the iron and enhance the body's removal of iron, help prevent organ damage from iron overload.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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