Aplastic anemia is a condition where the bone marrow doesn’t make enough new blood cells. With regular anemia, the person doesn’t have enough red blood cells but with aplastic anemia, they don’t have enough of all types of blood cell, including white blood cells and platelets.
Blood needs to be constantly reproduced because red blood cells only live 120 days, platelets live about six days and white blood cells live less than one day.
If stocks aren’t replenished, it can lead to all sorts of health problems including infections, bleeding, an irregular heartbeat and an enlarged heart. Severe cases can result in death.
The condition is more common in children and young adults. Between 600-900 American people get aplastic anemia every year.
Why does aplastic anemia occur?
Aplastic anemia occurs when stem cells in your bone marrow are destroyed. These stem cells normally make blood cells.
This problem is thought to be triggered by autoimmune dysfunction, when the immune system fails to recognise what is "you" and what is "foreign" and begins attacking your own cells.
Some causes of this autoimmune dysfunction include:
• Radiotherapy and chemotherapy
• Treatments for autoimmune disorders such as lupus
• Pregnancy - Pregnancy leads to a temporary depression of the immune system so the mother’s immune system won't attack the growing fetus as a foreign body. Sometimes this can result in immune system problems such as aplastic anemia. This may be temporary and can improve after the birth.
Other cases may be genetic, that is, they are passed from parent to child. If the aplastic anemia is hereditary then the affected child may also have other genetic abnormalities.
In the majority of cases, doctors aren’t sure what caused the immune dysfunction.
Symptoms include tiredness, dizziness, headaches, chest pain, cold hands and feet, pale complexion, nausea, easy bruising, nose bleeds, bleeding gums, blood in stool, fevers, infections and flu-like illnesses.
Girls and women may also have heavy menstrual periods.
How is It Treated?