Hemolysis Definition and Meaning

Hemolysis, or hemolytic anemia, is a destruction of red blood cells that can be caused by a variety of possible causes, which is difficult to prevent and treat and, in severe cases, can often lead to death.

What is hemolysis?

The classic symptoms of hemolysis include tremors, tiredness, lack of concentration, headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath through to heart palpitations under stress.

According to abbreviationfinder, Hemolysis is a condition that causes red blood cells called erythrocytes to break down.

When the cell membrane of the erythrocytes is damaged, the hemoglobin, which is the pigment in the red blood cells, escapes into the actually colorless plasma. A distinction is made between what is known as physiological hemolysis and increased hemolysis.

In the first case, the erythrocytes die off naturally after 120 days. The second case describes an increased dissolution of the erythrocytes, which goes beyond the natural erythrocyte circulation and must be regarded as pathological.


There are many causes of hemolysis. Haemolysis that occurs can be a symptom of another underlying disease or it can also occur as a result of mechanical processes or be genetically determined.

Haemolysis can occur as a result of severe infections and autoimmune diseases, as well as poisoning, heart valve prostheses and burns or defects in the erythrocyte membranes or hemoglobin. Parasites can also be a possible cause of increased hemolysis.

A first indication of pathological hemolysis is brown-colored urine. The discoloration is caused by increased hemoglobin being excreted in the urine (see also blood in the urine) in the event of increased hemolysis. A doctor can perform various tests if increased hemolysis is suspected.

If an increased number of young erythrocytes can be determined in the blood with a simultaneous lower concentration of hemoglobin, this is a further indication of possible haemolysis. So-called Coombs tests help to diagnose a disease with certainty. However, increased hemolysis is not always recognized immediately.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The classic symptoms of hemolysis include tremors, tiredness, lack of concentration, headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath through to heart palpitations under stress. The characteristic pallor of the skin is accompanied by other symptoms of jaundice. This is how abdominal pain, fever and general malaise appear, often accompanied by severe exhaustion.

Many patients also experience chills and headaches. If a hemolytic crisis occurs, symptoms such as severe stomach pain, high [[fever9] and 8[circulatory problems]] can occur. In severe cases, circulatory collapse occurs. Gallstones often form and the spleen enlarges, which can cause other symptoms. If the course is severe, thrombosis develops or kidney failure occurs.

Haemolytic anemia can also occur and become noticeable through the typical signs of anemia. If the haemolysis is not adequately treated, loss of consciousness may occur. The symptoms usually appear a few days to weeks after the causative disease and persist for months or even years. In some patients, symptoms resolve on their own once the trigger is resolved. In other cases, hemolysis is fatal.

Diagnosis & History

Various complications can occur as a result of increased haemolysis : As a comparatively harmless cause, gallstones can occur as a result of haemolysis. In the worst case, however, thrombosis, kidney failure or hemolytic anemia can occur.

In contrast to a healthy body, which is able to constantly reproduce new erythrocytes, so that the number of erythrocytes in the blood remains constant during physiological haemolysis, more erythrocytes are destroyed than can be reproduced.

As the disease progresses, there may be insufficient oxygen supply to the tissue. Due to the many possible complications, hemolysis can become chronic in quite a few cases and even lead to death.


In the worst case, hemolysis can lead to the death of the patient. This destroys the red blood cells, resulting in various symptoms and limitations. The person concerned feels sick and tired and suffers from severe exhaustion. Jaundice can also occur, in which the patient also suffers from fever and abdominal pain.

The person affected may lose consciousness and complain of severe headaches and nausea. As a rule, no particular physical activities can be carried out, so that the patient’s life is severely restricted. The enlargement of the spleen also causes severe pain in the abdominal region.

In the worst case, kidney failure can develop, in which case the patient is dependent on a donor kidney or on dialysis. If the symptoms are not treated, the patient usually dies. The treatment is always causal and is carried out in the form of an operative intervention. Complications are rare if the procedure is done early. Life expectancy can be reduced if hemolysis is treated late.

When should you go to the doctor?

Symptoms such as exhaustion, tiredness and jaundice indicate haemolysis. If these signs appear without a reason and do not go away on their own, medical advice is required. Patients who suddenly develop gallstones or signs of an enlarged spleen should see a doctor. If external signs of illness such as paleness and sunken eyes become noticeable, the family doctor must be consulted. If there are signs of a haemolytic crisis, which can manifest itself in the form of fever and abdominal pain, the emergency doctor is the right person to contact.

The same applies to kidney failure, thrombosis or haemolytic anemia. Hemolysis is triggered by severe infections and autoimmune diseases. Poisoning, burns or autoimmune diseases are also possible causes. Anyone who belongs to this risk group must speak to the doctor responsible immediately if they experience the symptoms mentioned. If the symptoms are severe, it is best to go to the nearest hospital or call the emergency services immediately. Since hemolysis can occur again and again, regular check-ups by the family doctor or an internist are indicated.

Treatment & Therapy

In order to be able to treat pathological haemolysis efficiently, it must first be determined whether the haemolysis is a congenital form or another cause. If the hemolysis is caused by another condition, the hemolysis usually resolves with treatment of the underlying condition.

Transfusion of packed red blood cells may be necessary for the duration of recovery to avoid increased hemolysis. If the hemolysis is due to genetic causes, the only treatment is often surgery to remove the spleen. The same treatment is often used if the haemolysis occurred because the affected person’s immune system itself has formed antibodies that are responsible for the destruction of the erythrocytes and drug treatment is not or no longer sufficient.

In the case of mechanical causes, the cause must logically be eliminated in order to treat the hemolysis. In the worst-case scenario, hemolysis to which a heart valve prosthesis is subject may make it necessary to replace the prosthesis. Blood transfusions are often not suitable for treating hemolysis.


Hemolysis is difficult to prevent and can only be prevented under certain circumstances, such as the fact that the hemolysis is not based on a genetic predisposition . Low-risk behavior, such as protection from potential intoxication or autoimmune disease, is often the only way to protect against hemolysis.


In the follow-up and recovery phase of hemolysis, a transfusion may be initiated to provide packed red blood cells to the patient. In this way, the doctors alleviate the disease. When there are genetic causes, doctors often opt for surgical removal of the spleen because treatment with drugs does not produce satisfactory results.

In the subsequent phase, patients can change their lifestyle to minimize the risk of intoxication. A healthy lifestyle is an effective way to strengthen the immune system and limit the risk of autoimmune diseases. This improves protection against hemolysis.

Patients should also look out for discoloration in the urine, which can indicate the disease. In the event of any abnormalities, a doctor’s appointment must be made at short notice. The subsequent diagnostics show whether the change is related to the disease. A balanced diet and lifestyle can protect those affected from the symptoms.

Patients at risk should avoid alcohol and stimulants such as coffee and nicotine, otherwise their general condition will deteriorate. Depending on the situation and fitness status, a gentle to moderate exercise program that stimulates the circulation, stabilizes the immune system and reduces excess weight makes sense.

You can do that yourself

Hemolysis is a serious blood disorder that the affected patient can neither diagnose nor treat themselves. It often becomes noticeable through a dark discoloration of the urine. There can be other reasons for the discoloration of the urine. If the patient observes such a discoloration, he should consult his doctor immediately and have an appropriate diagnosis carried out. Accompanying symptoms of hemolysis are a feeling of exhaustion and exhaustion and sometimes severe headaches caused by the disturbed metabolism.

The treatment of haemolysis is carried out in consultation with the doctor and with regular checks. It is very important that the patient adheres to the agreed treatment plan and shows up for the examinations. To support the treatment, the patient should refrain from all things and habits that lead to a strain on the organism and thus to a weakening.

Ideally, the patient strives for a healthy and balanced lifestyle while being treated for hemolysis. Toxic drugs such as alcohol, large amounts of coffee, nicotine or drugs should be avoided as a matter of urgency. Depending on the general condition of the patient, a light to moderate exercise or sports program can strengthen the immune and cardiovascular systems. This supports the organism during recovery. Obesity should be reduced.


About the author