Aplastic anemia is a rare disease of the bone marrow. When you have aplastic anemia, your damaged bone marrow is not able 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 their functions.
Aplastic anemia is a serious condition, but most people who have it can be successfully treated with medications, blood transfusions or stem cell transplants.
Aplastic anemia risk factors
Aplastic anemia affects men and women of all ages. In most cases it 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, or an autoimmune disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- Being pregnant, though the condition usually goes away when the baby is born
Aplastic anemia symptoms
Aplastic anemia has many possible symptoms. Call your primary care physician if you are concerned about any of the following:
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Cold hands and feet
- Pale skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Frequent infections
- Fever and flu-like symptoms
- Bruising easily
- Bleeding which may sometimes be hard to stop, particularly nosebleeds, bleeding gums or blood in the stool
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
How can I get help for aplastic anemia?
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, tell your primary care doctor. He or she will examine you and order blood tests. Additional testing may include X-ray, computed tomography (CT), ultrasound or bone marrow tests.
Your primary care doctor may refer you to a hematologist, a doctor who specializes in diseases of the blood, for more specialized tests and treatment.
Care for aplastic anemia at Rush
Mild cases of aplastic anemia may need little or no treatment unless the condition worsens. Treatment for aplastic anemia includes some of the following options, in combination or alone:
- Medications: These may include immune suppressants and other drugs that help the 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 up to normal and relieve many of the symptoms of aplastic anemia.
- Stem cell transplant: For some patients with severe aplastic anemia, a blood and marrow stem cell transplant can cure the condition. In a stem cell transplant procedure, doctors use donor stem cells to replace your damaged stem cells.
Why choose Rush for aplastic anemia care
- Expert care: At Rush, doctors who treat children and adults with blood disorders and are also involved in clinical and laboratory research. This extensive experience gives them a deep understanding of diseases of the blood.
- Clinical trials: At Rush, you’ll have access to the latest treatments for aplastic anemia being tested in clinical trials.
- Accredited bone marrow transplant clinic: The Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic at Rush is accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy. This accreditation recognizes Rush high quality standards for cell collection, laboratory processing and transplantation.