Disease: Aplastic anemia

Appointments & care

At Mayo Clinic, we take the time to listen, to find answers and to provide you the best care.

Aplastic anemia is a condition that occurs when your body stops producing enough new blood cells. Aplastic anemia leaves you feeling fatigued and with a higher risk of infections and uncontrolled bleeding.

A rare and serious condition, aplastic anemia can develop at any age. Aplastic anemia may occur suddenly, or it can occur slowly and get worse over a long period of time. Treatment for aplastic anemia may include medications, blood transfusions or a stem cell transplant.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Aplastic anemia symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath with exertion
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate
  • Pale skin
  • Frequent or prolonged infections
  • Unexplained or easy bruising
  • Nosebleeds and bleeding gums
  • Prolonged bleeding from cuts
  • Skin rash
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

Aplastic anemia can progress slowly over weeks or months, or it may come on suddenly. The illness may be brief, or it may become chronic. Aplastic anemia can be very severe and even fatal.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Aplastic anemia develops when damage occurs to your bone marrow, slowing or shutting down the production of new blood cells. Bone marrow is a red, spongy material inside your bones that produces stem cells, which give rise to other cells. Stem cells in the bone marrow produce blood cells — red cells, white cells and platelets. In aplastic anemia, the bone marrow is described in medical terms as aplastic or hypoplastic — meaning that it's empty (aplastic) or contains very few blood cells (hypoplastic).

Factors that can temporarily or permanently injure bone marrow and affect blood cell production include:

  • Radiation and chemotherapy treatments. While these cancer-fighting therapies kill cancer cells, they can also damage healthy cells, including stem cells in bone marrow. Aplastic anemia can be a temporary side effect of these treatments.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals. Exposure to toxic chemicals, such as some used in pesticides and insecticides, may cause aplastic anemia. Exposure to benzene — an ingredient in gasoline — also has been linked to aplastic anemia. This type of anemia may get better on its own if you avoid repeated exposure to the chemicals that caused your initial illness.
  • Use of certain drugs. Some medications, such as those used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and some antibiotics, can cause aplastic anemia.
  • Autoimmune disorders. An autoimmune disorder, in which your immune system begins attacking healthy cells, may involve stem cells in your bone marrow.
  • A viral infection. Viral infections that affect bone marrow may play a role in the development of aplastic anemia in some people. Viruses that have been linked to the development of aplastic anemia include hepatitis, Epstein-Barr, cytomegalovirus, parvovirus B19 and HIV.
  • Pregnancy. Aplastic anemia that occurs in pregnancy may be related to an autoimmune problem — your immune system may attack your bone marrow during pregnancy.
  • Unknown factors. In many cases, doctors aren't able to identify the cause of aplastic anemia. This is called idiopathic aplastic anemia.

Confusion with myelodysplastic syndrome

Aplastic anemia can be mistaken for a condition called myelodysplastic syndrome. In this group of disorders, the bone marrow produces new blood cells, but they're deformed and underdeveloped. The bone marrow in myelodysplastic syndrome is sometimes called hyperplastic — meaning that it's packed with blood cells. But some people with myelodysplastic syndrome have empty marrow that's difficult to distinguish from aplastic anemia.

Connections with other rare disorders

Some people with aplastic anemia also have a rare disorder known as paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria. This disorder causes red blood cells to break down too soon. Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria can lead to aplastic anemia, or aplastic anemia can evolve into paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria.

Fanconi's anemia is a rare, inherited disease that leads to aplastic anemia. Children born with it tend to be smaller than average and have birth defects, such as underdeveloped limbs. The disease is diagnosed with the help of blood tests.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Appointments & care

At Mayo Clinic, we take the time to listen, to find answers and to provide you the best care.

To diagnose aplastic anemia, your doctor may recommend:

  • Blood tests. Normally, red blood cell, white blood cell and platelet levels stay within a certain range. Your doctor may suspect aplastic anemia when all three of these blood cell levels are very low.
  • Bone marrow biopsy. To confirm a diagnosis, you'll need to undergo a bone marrow biopsy. In this procedure, a doctor uses a needle to remove a small sample of bone marrow from a large bone in your body, such as your hipbone. The bone marrow sample is examined under a microscope to rule out other blood-related diseases. In aplastic anemia, bone marrow contains fewer blood cells than normal.

Once you've received a diagnosis of aplastic anemia, you may need additional tests to determine an underlying cause.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

There's generally no prevention for most cases of aplastic anemia. However, avoiding exposure to insecticides, herbicides, organic solvents, paint removers and other toxic chemicals may lower your risk of the disease.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

If you have aplastic anemia, take care of yourself by:

  • Resting when you need to. Anemia can cause fatigue and shortness of breath with even mild exertion. Take a break and rest when you need to.
  • Avoiding contact sports. Because of the risk of bleeding associated with a low platelet count, avoid activities that may result in a cut or fall.
  • Protecting yourself from germs. You can reduce your risk of infections with frequent hand-washing and by avoiding sick people. If you develop a fever or other indicators of an infection, see your doctor for treatment.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Tips to help you and your family better cope with your illness include:

  • Research your disease. The more you know, the better prepared you'll be to make treatment decisions.
  • Ask questions. Be sure to ask your doctor about anything related to your disease or treatment that you don't understand. It may help you to record or write down what your doctor tells you.
  • Be vocal. Don't be afraid to express any concerns you have to your doctor or any other health care professional treating you.
  • Seek support. Ask family and friends for emotional support. Ask them to consider becoming blood donors or bone marrow donors. Consider joining an aplastic anemia support group. It may be helpful to talk to others coping with the disease. Ask your doctor if he or she knows of any local support groups, or contact the Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation. It offers a peer support network and can be reached at 800-747-2820.
  • Take care of yourself. Proper nutrition and sleep are important to optimize blood production.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Aplastic anemia is rare. Factors that may increase your risk include:

  • Treatment with high-dose radiation or chemotherapy for cancer
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals
  • The use of some prescription drugs — such as chloramphenicol, which is used to treat bacterial infections, and gold compounds used to treat rheumatoid arthritis
  • Certain blood diseases, autoimmune disorders and serious infections
  • Pregnancy, rarely

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

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