Rare Disease Treatment: Tips for Coping with Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia, you might already know a few things about it.

But let’s go over some basic facts before we dive into ways you can help treat it and relieve symptoms.

Red blood cells; image source: iran-daily.com

Definition of Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) occurs when antibodies, which are large proteins produced by your plasma cells so that your immune system can render infectious agents (like bacteria and viruses) ineffective, are directed against your own red blood cells.

This in turn causes them to burst, which leads to an insufficient number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in your circulation. In serious cases, red blood cell life could go from 120 days to just a few days.

With 50% of all Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia diagnoses being idiopathic, meaning there’s no known cause, you might be someone who falls into this category. It can be extremely frustrating to not know what caused such a disease, but you aren’t alone.

Although AIHA is a relatively rare condition, as in about two in every 100,000 people are diagnosed per year, finding different ways to treat it are available. You want to maintain your hemoglobin levels, and trips to the doctor are stressful. You never know what your red blood cell count might be, and you definitely aren’t looking forward to blood transfusions if your case is severe. But don’t fear, there are ways to manage this disease!

Let’s go over a few healthy and natural things you can strengthen your immune system and make yourself feel better.

Relaxing Exercise

Getting adequate exercise is not only necessary for a healthy lifestyle, it can make you feel better as well. From calming your mind to relieving blood pressure, yoga is a great place to start.

Woman doing joga; image source: healthiack.com

Basically, yoga is a practice that involves mind and body therapy based on movement.

A research study done a few years ago looked into the potential health benefits of yoga regarding blood pressure. After unearthing some tantalizing results, you can see how much yoga actually helps.

From a 12 week long study concerning patients and yoga practices, meaningful improvements were made in 24-hour systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

People who got at least 10,000 steps a day (which is the recorded healthy amount for an active lifestyle), were still not seeing the best results.

People who did yoga lowered their blood pressure more effectively.


Due to the complexity of blood and autoimmune disorders, medicine solutions including acupuncture have received much attention.

Performing acupuncture; image source: healthiack.com

Acupuncture is now regarded as a way to receive successful therapy for various diseases. It’s treatments are great for providing:

  • Pain Relief
  • Regulates Immune System
  • Manages Symptoms
  • Improves Overall Quality of Life

But what is acupuncture? Acupuncture is a traditional form of Chinese medicine that pinpoints areas of needed help and then uses small needles for relief. The belief is that these pricks will enforce a better flow of chi (“chee”), which is what the Chinese call your energy that flows through pathways in your body.

The more modern scientific explanation is that needling the acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals will either change the experience of pain, or trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones which influence the body’s own internal regulating system.

An acupuncturist will examine your medical history and ask where your pain is. They will then look for landmarks on your body, like muscles and bones, to place the needles. The needle pricks aren’t intrusive and usually people don’t even feel it.

Maybe you aren’t ready to get stuck with a couple of needles, but looking into this form of treatment might be right for you.

Foods to Eat

A healthy diet can improve anyone’s life. When it comes to having AIHA, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients. Many doctors recommend iron-rich diets. Foods that contain a lot of iron are as follows:

  • Leafy greens – spinach, kale, broccoli
  • Meats – chicken, beef, ham
  • Fish – salmon, tuna, halibut
  • Beans – black beans, navy beans
  • Tofu
  • Enriched pastas or cereals
  • Spices – including mustard seeds and ginger

Looking at food labels as well can tell you the percentage of iron in the food. A diet with more iron can often help Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia. With chronic disease being relatively high, creating a better diet for yourself will improve all aspects of your life.

Remember that water is your friend and soda is the enemy. Sure, drinking water everyday is necessary to stay even remotely healthy, but you might already know that a lot of AIHA disorders are caused by an underlying problem. Bacteria, a virus, toxins or some type of drug could be behind your disorder, and cutting out sugary drinks or foods will be beneficial.


Sometimes you just need more. Maybe you aren’t able to get enough nutrients from food. Taking vitamins or supplements can boost your system and eventually make you feel better.


B12 vitamins are a must for everyone, especially people with weak immune systems.

Folic acid is often recommended for individuals with anemia disorders. It’s also given to pregnant women and those who have digestive issues.

If your  is low, iron supplements would help boost your levels.

Remember that supplements aren’t magical and you most likely won’t feel stronger after one day of taking an iron pill, but make a good habit out of it and in time, you and your doctor will notice the benefits.

Wear Warm Clothing

If you are someone who has AIHA with cold-reactive antibodies, then try to avoid cold temperatures. This can help prevent the breakdown of red blood cells. It’s very important to protect your fingers, toes, and ears from the cold.

  • Wear gloves or mittens when taking food out of the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Arm yourself in a hat, scarf, and a coat with snug cuffs during cold weather.
  • Stay warm in cool places, if the air-conditioning is high. Many office buildings, hospitals and movie theaters love to have the air as cold as possible, so bring a coat along when necessary.
  • In winter, warm up your vehicle before getting in.

These may seem like simple steps, but avoiding the situations that could cause your cells to breakdown faster is something of importance.

Do Not Smoke

Smoking is detrimental to your health and everyone around you. You know this, everyone knows this, but with AIHA its effects are more intense.

Not only can smoking lead to cancer, which can cause chronic blood loss and anemia, but it lowers folic acid levels in the body as well. In turn, this could also cause anemia if your folic acid levels get too low.

So in general, just don’t smoke. It will not make you feel any better.

Be Aware of Things to Avoid

People born with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency should avoid substances that may trigger anemia. Here is a list of things to avoid:

  • Fava Beans – they’ve been proven to cause anemia in some people
  • Naphthalene (a substance found in some moth balls)
  • Phytates (found in foods with high-fiber like brown rice) – they bind with iron in the digestive system, inhibiting its absorption
  • Don’t mix calcium rich and iron rich foods – the calcium could affect the amount of iron you receive from those foods
  • Certain medicines (as your doctor advises)

Living with AIHA is difficult, but it can be managed.


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