Aplastic Anemia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Aplastic anemia occurs when your body stops producing enough new blood cells, leading to uncontrolled bleeding which leaves you feeling exhausted, and exposes you to higher risk of getting infections.

Aplastic anemia is a rare and severe condition which can develop at any age. Aplastic anemia may occur unexpectedly, or it can occur slowly and deteriorate over a long period of time.

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Symptoms of Aplastic Anemia

Aplastic anemia symptoms may include:

  • Paleness of skin
  • Constant fatigue
  • Shortness of breath with force
  • Skin rash
  • Frequent or prolonged infections
  • Bleeding gum
  • Unexplained or easy bruising
  • Nosebleeds
  • Prolonged bleeding from cuts
  • Headache and dizziness
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate

Aplastic anemia can progress slowly or it can come abruptly. The illness may be brief, or it may become chronic. Aplastic anemia can be very severe and even deadly.

Causes of Aplastic Anemia

Aplastic anemia occurs when your bone marrow is destroyed, thereby slowing or shutting down the production of new blood cells. Stem cells in the bone marrow produce blood cells — red cells, white cells and platelets. In aplastic anemia, the bone marrow is hypoplastic (empty or contains very few blood cells).

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Factors that can temporarily or permanently injure bone marrow and affect blood cell production include:

  • Side effect of radiation and chemotherapy treatments: hese therapies may destroy cancer cells, but they can also damage healthy cells, including stem cells in bone marrow. Aplastic anemia can be a temporary side effect of these cancer treatments.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals: Exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides and insecticides, may cause aplastic anemia. Exposure to benzene — an ingredient in gasoline — also has been linked to aplastic anemia. This type of anemia may improve on its own if you avoid repeated exposure to the chemicals.
  • Use of certain drugs: Some drugs, such as those used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and some antibiotics, can lead to aplastic anemia.
  • Autoimmune disorders: An autoimmune disorder which causes your immune system to start attacking healthy cells, may involve stem cells in your bone marrow.
  • A viral infection: Viral infections that affect bone marrow may play a role in the development of aplastic anemia in some people. Viruses that have been linked to the development of aplastic anemia include hepatitis, HIV, Epstein-Barr, cytomegalovirus, and parvovirus B19.
  • Pregnancy: A woman’s immune system may attack her bone marrow during pregnancy.
  • Unknown factors: Doctors may be unable to identify the cause of aplastic anemia in some cases. This is called idiopathic aplastic anemia.

Risk factors

Aplastic anemia is rare. Factors that may increase your risk include:

  • Use of some prescription drugs like chloramphenicol, which is used to treat bacterial infections, and gold compounds used to treat rheumatoid arthritis
  • Treatment with high-dose radiation or chemotherapy for cancer
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Certain blood diseases, autoimmune disorders and serious infections
  • Pregnancy

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There’s generally no prevention for most cases of aplastic anemia. Avoiding exposure to herbicides, insecticides, organic solvents, paint removers and other toxic chemicals may lower your exposure to the disease.


To accurately diagnose aplastic anemia, your doctor may recommend:

  • Blood tests:Normally, red blood cell, white blood cell and platelet levels stay within a certain range. Your doctor may suspect aplastic anemia when all three of these blood cell levels are very low.
  • Bone marrow biopsy:A needle is used to remove a small sample of bone marrow from a large bone in your body, such as your hipbone. The bone marrow sample is examined under a microscope to rule out other blood-related diseases. Bone marrow contains fewer blood cells than normal in aplastic anemia.


Treatment for aplastic anemia may include medications, blood transfusions or a stem cell transplant, also known as a bone marrow transplant. Severe cases of aplastic anemia may require immediate hospitalization for treatment.

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Blood transfusions

Treatment for aplastic anemia usually involves blood transfusions to control bleeding and relieve symptoms. Blood transfusions aren’t a cure for aplastic anemia, but they do relieve signs and symptoms by providing blood cells that your bone marrow isn’t producing. A transfusion may include:

  • Red blood cells: Transfusions of red blood cells raise red blood cell counts. This helps relieve anemia and fatigue.
  • Platelets: Transfusions of platelets help prevent excessive bleeding.

At times complications can arise with multiple transfusions. Transfused red blood cells contain iron that can gather in your body, causing damage to vital organs if an iron overload isn’t treated. Medications can help your body get rid of excess iron.

Stem cell transplant

A stem cell transplant, which is also called a bone marrow transplant, is generally the treatment of choice for people who are younger and have a matching donor.

If a donor (mostly sibling) is found, your diseased bone marrow is first depleted with radiation or chemotherapy. Healthy stem cells from the donor are filtered from the blood. The healthy stem cells are injected through your vein into your bloodstream, where they migrate to the bone marrow cavities and begin producing new blood cells. The procedure requires a lengthy hospital stay. After the transplant, you’ll receive drugs to help prevent rejection of the donated stem cells.

There are also risks attached to a stem cell transplant. There’s a chance that your body may reject the transplant, leading to deadly complications.


These are treatments using drugs that can alter or suppress the immune system. Examples of such drugs are cyclosporine (Gengraf, Neoral, Sandimmune) and anti-thymocyte globulin. These drugs suppress the activity of immune cells that are damaging your bone marrow. This helps your bone marrow recover and generate new blood cells. Cyclosporine and anti-thymocyte globulin are often used in combination.

Antibiotics, antivirals

Aplastic anemia weakens your immune system, leaving you with fewer white blood cells in circulation to combat germs. This can make you vulnerable to infections. If you have severe aplastic anemia, your doctor may give you antibiotics or antiviral medications to help prevent infections.


Sources: Mayoclinic.com, healthjade.com, news-medical.net

Disclaimer: The content provided on healthdiary365.com is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical doctor or healthcare professional.


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