Hemolysis is the premature destruction of red blood cells (RBC’s) that can lead to hemolytic anemia when the bone marrow cannot compensate for the loss of red blood cells. Normally, RBC’s live between 90 and 120 days so about 1% of RBC’s die each day.
Hemolytic Anemia can be caused by a number of things. Some acquired and others inherited. For those with G6PD Deficiency, oxidative stress can cause the premature distruction of RBC’s due to the lack of an enzyme called reduced glutathione which G6PD helps produce. We maintain a list of drugs, food and other substances, or contraindicated substances, that can cause hemolytic anemia.
People with Class 1 G6PD Deficiency, a rare form of the disorder, also have Chronic Non-Spherocytic Hemolytic Anemia (CNSHA) which means the body is always in some state of hemolysis. There are over 80 variants of G6PD Deficiency with CNSHA associated with them.
Degrees of Hemolysis
Hemolysis can be quite subtle or it can be extreme. In rare cases hemolysis can be life threatening. If enough RBC’s die the body will have no means of getting oxygen to the body, resulting in death without immediate medical attention. The usual treatment for this is transfusion of whole blood, but this also has severe health risks that can be fatal. It is always best to avoid the triggers of hemolytic anemia.
Chronic fatigue, pale skin color, yellow skin and/or eyes, back pain, shortness of breath and dark urine can all be signs of hemoysis. For a complete list of symptoms, go here. Low level hemolysis can lead to blindness, heart attack, pulmonary hypertension, hyperbillirubinimia, stunted growth, vitamin deficiency and high iron levels. Because the body has to remove the byproducts of hemolysis it puts stress on the liver, kidneys and bladder.
Avoiding Hemolytic Anemia
This is always a difficult concept for people to grasp. If you eat something and see no immediate negative effects, it’s easy to think that it’s okay to eat that food. Unfortunately, ALL foods which cause oxidative stress cause RBC’s to die which reduces the body’s supply of G6PD which is necessary for life. If we constantly reduce the amount of G6PD available, we put ourselves at risk for other problems. For example: G6PD is necessary for changing carbohydrates to energy. If we come into contact with something very harmful, we will need all the G6PD we can get.
Treatment and Prevention
Since G6PD Deficiency is a genetic disorder, there is no cure and the best treatment for hemolytic anemia caused by G6PD Deficiency is avoiding certain drugs and foods.