What is autoimmune haemolytic anaemia?

What is autoimmune haemolytic anaemia?

Blood is made up of a liquid (called plasma) and various types of cells including red blood cells. Red blood cells contain a substance called haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body to the tissues. When the level of haemoglobin is low a person is short of oxygen and feels tired. This is called anaemia.

Autoimmune haemolytic anaemia is a type of anaemia that develops when the antibodies (types of protein) of a person's immune system damage some of their red blood cells.

Autoimmune haemolytic anaemia is normally divided into 2 types, depending on the type of antibody. These are warm antibody type (the most common form) and cold antibody type. Treatment depends on the type of antibody causing the anaemia.

Not all people with warm type autoimmune haemolytic anaemia will need treatment, but for those who do, the first treatment is usually steroids. Other medicines which work on the immune system or rituximab might be used after steroids have been tried. Another option is surgery to remove the spleen (called a splenectomy).

Steroids, medicines which work on the immune system or surgery to remove the spleen don't usually work very well in cold type autoimmune haemolytic anaemia. People with cold type autoimmune haemolytic anaemia are now often offered rituximab as the first treatment.