Aplastic anemia is a rare, serious blood disease that affects men and women of all ages. When you have aplastic anemia, your bone marrow is damaged and is unable to make enough of the following:
- Red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout your body
- White blood cells, which help prevent infection
- Platelets, which allow the blood to clot when you’re bleeding
Not having enough of these cells means your body may have trouble performing important functions.
Aplastic Anemia Risk Factors
In most cases, aplastic anemia has no clear cause. Some risk factors include the following:
- Having received radiation or chemotherapy for cancer treatment
- Being exposed to certain toxins, such as pesticides or benzene (a chemical used to make a variety of materials that is also present in cigarette smoke)
- Having an infectious disease, such as hepatitis
- Having an autoimmune disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- Being pregnant, though the condition usually goes away when your baby is born
Symptoms of Aplastic Anemia
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Cold hands and feet
- Pale skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Frequent infections
- Fever and flu-like symptoms
- Bruising easily
- Nosebleeds, bleeding gums, bloody stool and other types of bleeding, which may be hard to stop
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, tell your primary care doctor. Your provider will examine you and order blood tests or imaging scans.
Your primary care doctor may refer you to a hematologist, a doctor who specializes in blood diseases, for more specialized tests and treatment.
Aplastic Anemia Treatment at Rush
Mild cases of aplastic anemia may need little or no treatment unless the condition worsens. For moderate to serious aplastic anemia, your Rush hematologist may recommend some of the following options, in combination or alone:
- Medications: These may include immune suppressants and other drugs that help your bone marrow to produce more blood cells, as well as medications to prevent or treat infections.
- Blood transfusion: Receiving a transfusion of healthy blood can temporarily bring blood cell levels back to normal and relieve many of the symptoms of aplastic anemia.
- Stem cell transplant: If you have severe aplastic anemia, a blood and marrow stem cell transplant can cure it. In a stem cell transplant procedure, doctors use donor stem cells to replace damaged stem cells.
Rush Excellence in Aplastic Anemia
- Expert care: Many Rush hematologists are also researchers, conducting laboratory studies and clinical trials to uncover new treatments and gain a deeper understanding of blood diseases. This means you can be assured that our physicians are on top of recent innovations and approaches in anemia care. You may also be able to participate in clinical trials of new treatments.
- High-quality stem cell transplants. If you need a stem cell transplant, you can rest assured that Rush’s bone marrow transplant program will take good care of you. The program has a 100% survival rate for the first 180 days after transplant. The center is also accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy, which means Rush complies with quality standards for cell collection, laboratory processing and transplantation.
- Team-based, coordinated care: If your aplastic anemia is caused by an underlying disease, such as hepatitis or lupus, our hematologists will work alongside your other Rush specialists, such as your infectious disease physician or rheumatologists, to ensure we are treating the cause of the anemia. We also work closely with the Rush oncologists to help cancer patients who've developed aplastic anemia from cancer treatments.
- Convenient care in Chicago and suburbs: Our aplastic anemia providers are available to see you at our Chicago campus, as well as Rush locations in Lisle and Oak Park.