Aplastic anemia develops when the body fails to manufacture adequate number of new blood cells. The condition makes you feel tired, fatigued and at a very high risk of contracting infections and developing uncontrolled bleeding.
It can develop at any age; may develop suddenly or insidiously and could get worse over a long interval of time.
When there is trauma to the bone marrow, which slows or stops the synthesis of new blood cells, aplastic anemia develops. The bone marrow is spongy, red substance present in the bones which manufactures stem cells, which generate other cells. Stem cells in the bone marrow produce white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
Factors which could cause trauma to the bone marrow permanently or for a short time include:
- Radiation and chemotherapy: Radio-chemotherapy helps exterminate cancer cells; on the other hand, they also injure the healthy cells of the body, including the stem cells in bone marrow. The condition may be a transitory side effect of these therapies.
- Exposure to noxious chemicals: Exposure to pesticides and insecticides, and benzene is known to cause aplastic anemia. It also gets better on its own if you keep away from repeated exposure to these chemicals.
- Certain drugs: Medications, especially, to treat rheumatoid arthritis as well as certain antibiotics, can cause aplastic anemia.
- Auto-immune disorders: The immune system attacks healthy cells, and these could be the stem cells of the bone marrow.
- Viral infection of the bone marrow may result in aplastic anemia. Epstein-Barr, Hepatitis, Cyto-megalovirus, HIV and Parvovirus B19 are common triggers.
- Pregnancy: Aplastic anemia may develop during pregnancy.
- Idiopathic: There may be no known cause for its development.
Symptoms Of Aplastic Anemia
The symptoms and clinical manifestations of aplastic are due to a scarcity of one or more types of blood cells. Common symptoms are:
- Exhaustion and weakness
- Shortness of breath and gasping on exertion
- Skin becomes very pale
- Rapid or irregular heart rate
- Frequent and / or long drawn out infections
- Nosebleeds and bleeding gums
- Easy bruising
- Too much bleeding from cuts
- Skin rash
Aplastic anemia may progress gradually over weeks or months, or may come on suddenly. It may be brief, or chronic. The condition could even be fatal.
How To Diagnose Aplastic Anemia?
To diagnose aplastic anemia, your health care provider will recommend you a few tests:
- Blood tests: Your doctor may deduce aplastic anemia when the white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets level are very low. Occasionally, all the 3 levels may be normal too.
- Bone marrow biopsy: To verify a diagnosis of aplastic anemia, your health care provider may also advocate getting a bone marrow biopsy done. The doctor will use a needle to excise a tiny sample of the bone marrow from a large bone in the body. The sample is examined under a microscope. In aplastic anemia, the bone marrow has lesser number of blood cells than normal.
Management of aplastic anemia is very essential. Your doctor will adopt a multi disciplinary approach to manage the case.
Blood transfusion is usually advised to most patients. Some doctors recommend bone marrow transplant to get the level of all the blood cells to normal. Immuno-suppressants may also be prescribed along antibiotics.