What Is Aplastic Anemia, and How Does It Differ from Other Anemia?

Doctor speaking to woman about aplastic anemia

There are many different forms of anemia, and one of the most serious types is called aplastic anemia. This is a rare disease, but very severe forms of it can be life-threatening. This condition is commonly mistaken for myelodysplastic syndrome, which is identified by the bone marrow producing new blood cells that are deformed or underdeveloped. However, aplastic anemia is actually a condition of the body’s bone marrow not making enough new blood cells.

Therefore, it is important to obtain a correct diagnosis by a trusted medical professional to pursue the most appropriate and effective treatment options. So, here is some information about aplastic anemia, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

What Is Aplastic Anemia?

Aplastic anemia is a disorder of the blood and bone marrow in which the bone marrow ceases to produce an adequate number of healthy blood cells. What distinguishes aplastic anemia from other conditions is that blood cells produced by the bone marrow are healthy, but there simply aren’t enough of them being produced.

Although aplastic anemia can affect anyone of any age, children and older adults are most often diagnosed with it. Surveys show that approximately 600 to 900 people in the United States are diagnosed with this condition each year and that Asian Americans develop it most frequently compared to other demographics.

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What Causes Aplastic Anemia?

This condition occurs when the body’s bone marrow is damaged and causes the production of new blood cells to slow down or stop entirely. There are many different factors that can cause this phenomenon, including autoimmune disorders, viral infections, and radiation and chemotherapy treatments for cancer.

Some antibiotics and rheumatoid arthritis medications have been linked to this condition, as well as exposure to toxic chemicals, such as benzene, insecticides, and pesticides. Pregnant women may develop this condition as well, but it often improves once the pregnancy ends. However, doctors aren’t able definitively pinpoint the exact cause of aplastic anemia in many people due to unknown factors that are present.

What Are the Symptoms of Aplastic Anemia?

Some of the symptoms of aplastic anemia mirror the symptoms of other forms of anemia, such as fatigue, feeling short of breath, and bruising easily. However, individuals with aplastic anemia also report bleeding that doesn’t stop easily, frequent infections, and fever. Pale skin, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, skin rashes, headaches, and dizziness are also symptoms associated with aplastic anemia. These symptoms may appear suddenly or progress and worsen over time.

Can Aplastic Anemia Be Cured?

Although aplastic anemia can be very serious and even fatal, effective treatment strategies do exist. Physicians often recommend blood transfusions and blood and bone marrow stem cell transplants to people with this condition. Iron supplements, such as Fergon, may be recommended if a patient’s iron levels are low. Other treatments include immunosuppressants, bone marrow stimulants, and antibiotic and antiviral medications. But since aplastic anemia tends to get worse over time, it is important to diagnose the issue as quickly as possible to begin a treatment plan.

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