Aplastic anemia is a serious medical problem, in which the bone marrow stops the production of new blood cells. It can occur at any age and due to various medical conditions. Aplastic anemia can occur abruptly or as a gradual process. The person having this disorder will soon become tired and may have symptoms of irregular heartbeat and shortness of breath. The person becomes prone to frequent infection and bleeding. It can be treated by blood transfusion and stem cell transplant for producing fresh blood cells.
Aplastic anemia can cause extreme tiredness due to loss of blood cells. Some people may suffer from rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and unexplained weight loss. Due to lack of immunity, the body becomes prone to frequent infections. The person may get frequent bruises, cuts and nosebleeds commonly. Further the skin becomes pale and rashes may develop. This condition can occur suddenly for some people and it would occur as a gradual process. In rare cases aplastic anemia can cause death.
Bone marrow is responsible for the production of blood cells and any damage to the bone marrow can hinder the formation of fresh blood cells. Bone marrow produces new stem cells which in turn form other cells. Certain factors or medical conditions can affect the bone marrow and stop its normal function. The bone marrow of people affected with aplastic anemia becomes hypoplastic (empty) and does not produce any fresh blood cells.
Exposure to toxic substances or benzene, prolonged usage of certain drugs given for managing rheumatoid arthritis and undergoing chemotherapy can affect the stem cells present in the bone marrow leading to aplastic anemia. Certain types of autoimmune disorders and severe viral infection like hepatitis an affect the bone marrow arresting the production of new blood cells. Some women may develop aplastic anemia during pregnancy when the body’s own immune system would attack the bone marows. For some people, there is no known factor that causes aplastic anemia. For reasons not known, they suffer from this disorder. Aplastic anemia is similar to that of myelodysplastic syndrome, wherein the bone marrow produces underdeveloped blood cells.
Based on symptoms, your doctor may request for complete blood profile. Under normal conditions, RBC, WBC and platelets will remain in certain range. But when a person gets aplastic anemia, the levels of these blood cells become very low. If required, your doctor may perform biopsy of bone marrow by taking a tissue sample from bone marrow which is then tested in the lab to detect any blood related disorder.
For mild forms of aplastic anemia, you may not be given any treatment except for taking healthy balanced diet. For moderate level, blood transfusion would be done. Severe form of aplastic anemia can become serious and even fatal, if not treated. Blood transfusion is done for the person affected with aplastic anemia to normalize the level of red blood cells. Most of the symptoms of tiredness would get resolved when the levels of blood cell count becomes normal. Platelet transfer can be done to prevent excess of bleeding. Blood transfusion should be done under careful medical supervision only. Sometimes it can cause complications when there is sudden increase in red blood cells which can affect vital organs also.
In some people, who undergo repeated blood transfusion, the body’s immune system may generate antibodies that can attack the transfused blood cells. Your doctor may prescribe immunosuppressant drugs on such occasions. Stem cell transplantation is the best option for people affected with severe form of aplastic anemia. Freshly transfused stem cells will help in rebuilding the bone marrow which triggers the production of new blood cells. Young people who have a ready donor are considered the best candidate for bone marrow (stem cell) transplantation.
Initially the bone marrow of the affected person is destroyed with chemo or radiation therapy. Subsequently healthy stem cells are injected via intravenous injection into the blood which would produce new blood cells. The entire procedure is to be performed in hospital only requiring close medical supervision. Stem cell transplant is not easy as you think. Your body may reject the freshly injected stem cells causing more complications.
Immunity suppressing drugs like cyclosporine or thymoglobulin are prescribed for people who have aplastic anemia due to autoimmune disease. These drugs may be combined with suitable corticosteroid medications to be more effective. Certain medications like Leukine, Neupogen and Neulasta are effective in stimulating the immune system to trigger the production of fresh blood cells by the bone marrow. People with aplasic anemia are more prone to infections than others. Follow your doctor’s instructions in taking medications and taking complete rest whenever you feel low.
Tips for Prevention :
There is no way you can prevent aplastic anemia. But you can avoid over exposure to toxic chemicals and insecticides and always use suitable masks if you are using them.