Aplastic anemia is a condition in which the bone marrow does not produce enough new cells to replace blood cells. All three types of cells are affected—red, white, and platelets. Approximately 3 out of every 1 million people contract aplastic anemia each year. It is not technically a cancer, but can be a side effect of certain types of cancer. Although rare, it is a very serious condition which, if left untreated, could cause death.
Aplastic Anemia Signs & Symptoms
The condition’s symptoms resemble those of other types of anemia, such as:
- Poor color
- Heart palpitations
- Easy bleeding or bruising
For a person with severe aplastic anemia, frequent infections or persistent bleeding may be life-threatening.
Aplastic Anemia Diagnosis & Treatment
In order to diagnose aplastic anemia, doctors will draw samples of blood and bone marrow and examine them under a microscope. This is done in one of two ways: by aspiration, in which a small amount of liquid marrow is drawn by a small, thin needle, or a biopsy, in which a sample of intact bone marrow is collected. In both procedures, the marrow is usually drawn from the hipbone.
The treatment depends on the severity of the patient’s condition. If their case is mild, a doctor may simply observe the patient’s blood count regularly to see if their condition is deteriorating. Those with a more severe condition may need regular blood transfusions or more aggressive treatment, such as immunosuppressant therapy (when a patient is prescribed medication that weakens their immune system) or a bone marrow transplant. Many patients begin with immunosuppressant therapy and keep the transplant as a last resort.
Transplants are usually recommended for patients under 20 years of age, particularly those who have a suitable sibling match. Patients over 40 years of age are usually prescribed immunosuppressant therapy because of the many side effects that come with transplant surgery.
A patient’s prognosis depends on their overall health and the severity of their condition. It is recommended that a patient seek medical treatment immediately so that the most appropriate course of treatment can begin as soon as possible.