Aplastic anemia is a condition where the bone marrow does not produce red and white blood cells and platelets. Aplastic anemia is a very rare condition with only between five and 10 cases per million being diagnosed in industrialized countries.
Although a very few people have congenital aplastic anemia, the majority of cases have no known cause. Of those where causation can be traced, the most common cause is exposure to environmental toxins or drugs. Many of the chemical substances known to cause aplastic anemia have been banned in the western world, but some are still used in developing countries where aplastic anemia is more prevalent.
It is known that some drugs that are used to treat cancer may destroy bone marrow cells and large amounts of radiotherapy treatment may also be a contributing factor.
People suffering from aplastic anemia present with the following symptoms:
• increasing fatigue
• feeling weak and lacking energy
• shortness of breath
• areas of unexplained bruising and blood spots may be noticed on the skin
• sore throat
• fever and flu-like symptoms
If any or all of these symptoms are noted, immediate medical attention should be sought.
In cases of mild aplastic anemia, the person will often recover spontaneously once the causative agent is removed.
More severe cases often have complications, especially if the person has been hospitalized. Infection is the main concern, especially if chemotherapy drugs have been given via an indwelling intravenous line or if you have a catheter. Usually, the person will be kept under observation unless a fever develops that lasts for more than two hours, in which case antibiotics will be given.
If bleeding is present, the person may be given a blood and platelet transfusion to encourage clotting.
In severe cases of aplastic anemia where the patient is aged 50 or less, bone marrow transplantation from a sibling with an HL-A tissue type may be considered. The procedure entails harvesting stem cells from the sibling of the patient under general anesthetic and implanting them into the patient.
In cases where the patient is over the age of 50 and has no HL-A compatible sibling, immunosuppression will be the treatment used.
People who are diagnosed with aplastic anemia must be prepared for a life where blood and platelet transfusions may be necessary on a regular basis and drug therapy will be required.
There will always be a risk of infection and consequent serious, potentially life-threatening conditions. Contact sports should be avoided, although other exercise can be carried out safely when the patient has the energy to do so.
Some of the therapies used to treat aplastic anemia have side effects. Patients may suffer from repeated fever, rashes and joint pain. The immunosuppressant drug, cyclosporin can cause unusual hair growth and swelling of the gums. Patients on higher doses of this drug may also be at risk of kidney failure and high blood pressure.
Although aplastic anemia patients with a mild form of the condition can live a relatively fulfilling life with the right drug therapy, the fatality rate of severe aplastic anemia cases is high, largely due to complications following bone marrow transplantation or as a result of infection and blood poisoning.
Currently, an optimistic prognosis estimates that over 75% of patients can expect to enjoy long term survival post therapy.
Aplastic anemia is a very rare condition affecting the ability of the bone marrow to create blood cells. The condition is incurable but can be treated as outlined above. Life expectancy rates are low in cases of severe aplastic anemia, but patients with the milder form of the disease can expect to live for an average term.