Aplastic Anemia Facts
In aplastic anemia, the bone marrow stops producing new blood cells at the same rate resulting in deficits of all blood cell types. White blood cells fight germs and platelets help blood clot. Without these, the body is at risk for infection and uncontrolled bleeding.
Aplastic anemia is a very rare disorder in which the immune system mistakenly destroys bone marrow. Fewer than 1,000 people in the United States are diagnosed each year. Its cause is unknown, but in some cases there is a connection with exposure to chemicals such as benzene and radiation. It may also be inherited or brought on by a viral infection. Secondary aplastic anemia can develop when bone marrow is damaged by cancer, chemotherapy, certain medications, or pregnancy.
In aplastic anemia, the quantity of each blood cell type is much lower than normal. Fewer white blood cells will bring on unexplained infections. Fewer platelets bring about unexpected bleeding and fewer red blood cells cause fatigue. Other symptoms include:
- Easy, unexplained bruising
- Nosebleeds and bleeding gums
- Pale skin
- Prolonged bleeding from cuts
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath with exertion
- Skin rash
Aplastic anemia is diagnosed with blood tests to count the types of blood cells circulating in the blood. When two or three of the cell counts is extremely low, that is a strong indication of aplastic anemia. A definitive diagnosis is made with a bone marrow biopsy. In this procedure, a doctor uses a needle to remove a small sample of bone marrow from a large bone, such as the hipbone. The bone marrow sample is examined under a microscope to rule out other blood-related diseases.
If very few cells are present in the bone marrow, an aplastic anemia diagnosis is made.
People with aplastic anemia are treated by a hematologist, one who specializes in blood disorders.