Aplastic anemia

Treatment

Aplastic anemia can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Mild or moderate aplastic anemia is serious but usually doesn't require hospitalization and may be treated with

  • Blood transfusions and/or medications
  • Immunosuppressive drugs
  • Growth factors
Anemia A condition in which the number of red blood cells is below normal. Blood transfusion A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient. A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient and stored until needed. Also called transfusion.

Severe aplastic anemia, in which blood cell counts are extremely low, is life-threatening, and requires immediate hospitalization for treatment, which is usually a bone marrow transplant. Replacing diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow from a donor often successfully cures aplastic anemia.

Treatment types

Treatment looks different for different people depending on your diagnosis. We tailor your treatment plan to you. Learn more about the treatment types offered at SCCA. 

Anemia A condition in which the number of red blood cells is below normal. Bone marrow The soft, spongy material in the center of your bones that produces all your blood cells, such as white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Treatment plan A detailed plan with information about a patient’s disease, the goal of treatment, the treatment options for the disease and the possible side effects and expected length of treatment. A detailed plan with information about a patient’s disease, the goal of treatment, the treatment options for the disease and the possible side effects and expected length of treatment. A treatment plan may also include information about how much the treatment is likely to cost and about regular follow-up care after treatment ends.
Blood transfusions

Having a blood transfusion refers to a patient receiving blood cells from a donor. Transfusions help insure that an anemic patient’s blood cell count stays at a safe level. Platelet transfusions reduce the risk of bleeding problems caused when platelet counts are too low. Red blood cell transfusions reduce symptoms of fatigues.

However, having too many blood transfusions means that iron from red blood cell transfusions can build up in the body and cause organ damage, or, the immune system may develop antibodies that attack the transfused cells.

Antibody A protein made by immune system cells and released into the blood. Antibodies defend the body against foreign substances, such as bacteria. Blood transfusion A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient. A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient and stored until needed. Also called transfusion. Blood transfusion A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient. A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient and stored until needed. Also called transfusion. Platelet A tiny, disc-shaped piece of a cell that is found in the blood and spleen. Platelets help form blood clots to slow or stop bleeding and to help wounds heal. A tiny, disc-shaped piece of a cell that is found in the blood and spleen. Platelets are pieces of very large cells in the bone marrow called megakaryocytes. They help form blood clots to slow or stop bleeding and to help wounds heal. Having too many or too few platelets, or having platelets that do not work as they should, can cause problems. Checking the number of platelets in the blood may help diagnose certain diseases or conditions. Red blood cell A type of blood cell that carries oxygen in the body. Symptom A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. Some examples of symptoms are headache, fatigue, nausea and pain.
Blood transfusions

Having a blood transfusion refers to a patient receiving blood cells from a donor.

Immune-suppressive medications

Because one possible cause of aplastic anemia is the immune system working against itself, one or more immunosuppressive drugs are often given until a stem cell transplant can be performed.

Anemia A condition in which the number of red blood cells is below normal. Bone marrow transplant The process of treating disease with high doses of chemotherapy, radiation therapy or both. Bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells are given after treatment to help the body make more blood cells. The process of treating disease with high doses of chemotherapy, radiation therapy or both. Because this treatment destroys the bone marrow’s ability to produce blood cells, bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells are given after treatment to help the body make more blood cells. Stem cell A cell from which other types of cells develop. For example, blood cells develop from blood-forming stem cells.
Immune-suppressive medications

Because one possible cause of aplastic anemia is the immune system working against itself, one or more immunosuppressive drugs are often given until a stem cell transplant can be performed.

Growth factors

Growth factors are drugs that help the body make more blood cells, which may be given to reduce the number or need for blood transfusions. Given after immunosuppressive therapy or bone marrow transplant, growth factors can help blood cell production or may be used in combination with immune-suppressing drugs to relieve the symptoms of aplastic anemia.

Having aplastic anemia weakens the immune system leaving a person susceptible to all kinds of infections. White blood cells, responsible for fighting off infections, cannot be effectively replaced with a transfusion, so antibiotics are often administered when fever or infection appears.

Anemia A condition in which the number of red blood cells is below normal. Blood transfusion A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient. A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient and stored until needed. Also called transfusion. Blood transfusion A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient. A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient and stored until needed. Also called transfusion. Bone marrow The soft, spongy material in the center of your bones that produces all your blood cells, such as white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Symptom A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. Some examples of symptoms are headache, fatigue, nausea and pain. White blood cell A type of blood cell that is made in the bone marrow and found in the blood and lymph tissue. White blood cells are part of the body’s immune system and help the body fight infection and other diseases. A type of blood cell that is made in the bone marrow and found in the blood and lymph tissue. White blood cells are part of the body’s immune system. They help the body fight infection and other diseases. Types of white blood cells include granulocytes (neutrophils, eosinophils and basophils), monocytes and lymphocytes (T cells and B cells). Checking the number of white blood cells in the blood is usually part of a complete blood cell (CBC) test. It may be used to look for conditions such as infection, inflammation, allergies and leukemia. Also called leukocyte and WBC.
Growth factors

Growth factors are drugs that help the body make more blood cells, which may be given to reduce the number or need for blood transfusions.

Bone marrow transplantation

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center physicians pioneered bone marrow transplants for aplastic anemia treatment. If bone marrow or stem cell transplantation is indicated, patients will be seen by Hutchinson Center doctors who are world leaders in stem cell and bone marrow transplantation. When patients have the opportunity to use a matched sibling’s stem cells or bone marrow, there is a 90 percent success rate.

Outcomes are best with matched siblings when patients are under 20 years of age and early after diagnosis, have had minimal prior (irradiated) transfusions, marrow is used as the stem cell source, and CY (cyclosporine) and ATG (methyprednisolone, cyclosporine, and granulocyte colony stimulating factor) are used as conditioning prior to transplant.

Anemia A condition in which the number of red blood cells is below normal. Blood transfusion A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient. A procedure in which whole blood, or parts of the blood, are put into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein. The blood may be donated by another person, or it may have been taken from the patient and stored until needed. Also called transfusion. Bone marrow The soft, spongy material in the center of your bones that produces all your blood cells, such as white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Conditioning Treatments to prepare patients for stem cell transplantation. May include chemotherapy, monoclonal antibody therapy and radiation. The treatments used to prepare a patient for stem cell transplantation (a procedure in which a person receives blood stem cells, which make any type of blood cell). A conditioning regimen may include chemotherapy, monoclonal antibody therapy and radiation to the entire body. It helps make room in the patient’s bone marrow for new blood stem cells to grow; prevent the patient's body from rejecting the transplanted cells; and kill any cancer cells that are in the body. Stem cell A cell from which other types of cells develop. For example, blood cells develop from blood-forming stem cells. Stem cell A cell from which other types of cells develop. For example, blood cells develop from blood-forming stem cells.
Bone marrow transplantation

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center physicians pioneered bone marrow transplants for aplastic anemia treatment.