What is Autoimmune Anemia?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2018
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Autoimmune anemia is a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks red blood cells in the body. A person with the disorder may experience chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, and paleness, among many other symptoms. Autoimmune anemia may be inherited from a parent or arise due to an adverse drug reaction, an infection, or another blood disease. In many cases, the condition is deemed idiopathic, meaning that doctors cannot determine an underlying cause. Most instances of autoimmune anemia can be effectively managed with steroids, though a patient may need to undergo surgery if the disorder causes damage to internal organs.

The human immune system is essential in fighting off foreign pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and cancer. In the case of autoimmune anemia, components of the immune system turn their defenses on healthy red blood cells. When mature blood cells are destroyed, the blood becomes less able to efficiently carry oxygen and other important nutrients throughout the body.

A person with mild autoimmune anemia may not experience any noticeable symptoms. A moderate condition can cause a rapid heartbeat, breathing difficulties, and tiredness. When the condition causes massive red blood cell destruction, an individual can experience jaundice and an enlarged spleen and lymph nodes. Autoimmune anemia usually progresses slowly over the course of months or years, but it is possible for a person to suddenly begin experiencing symptoms.


When a doctor suspects autoimmune anemia, he or she will ask the patients about any medications that are being taken and collect blood samples for laboratory testing. Pathologists in the hospital laboratory conduct a complete blood cell count to determine the quantity of mature red blood cells and other components present in a sample. They can differentiate this form of anemia from other red blood cell disorders by carefully inspecting samples at the microscopic level. After a diagnosis has been confirmed, the physician may decide to conduct an ultrasound to check for damage to the spleen and other internal body parts.

Treatment for autoimmune anemia depends largely on the underlying cause of problems. A patient who is experiencing an adverse drug reaction is usually taken off of the medication to see if symptoms resolve. Individuals with idiopathic and inherited conditions are usually given steroids and other immunosuppressive drugs. A surgical procedure known as a splenectomy may be needed if a patient's spleen is severely enlarged or damaged. In addition, patients are usually instructed to maintain healthy diets and schedule regular checkups with their doctors to monitor recovery.

With successful treatment, most patients are able to effectively manage their symptoms for long periods of time. It is possible for the condition to return, especially in adults with idiopathic anemia. A doctor may need to adjust a patient's medications over time to help prevent recurring symptoms.



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