Individuals affected by aplastic anemia feel tired all the time and are more susceptible to infections. This is because their body does not produce enough new blood cells. Aplastic anemia is one of the main types of anemia and is a serious condition. The condition can appear in anyone. It develops slowly and can worsen over time. Aplastic anemia can be treated through medications, stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant), or blood transfusions.
Symptoms of aplastic anemia
Symptoms of this main type of anemia are not evident in the early stages and can develop slowly as the condition worsens. Some of the symptoms are:
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- An infection that does not go away in spite of treatments
- Pale skin
- Headache and dizziness
- Longer bleeding from wounds or rashes
Causes of aplastic anemia
An individual suffers from aplastic anemia when the stem cells are damaged in the bone marrow. This is commonly caused due to autoimmune disorder. In other cases, bone marrow is injured because of various reasons such as:
- Radiation and chemotherapy treatments
A well-known side effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer is aplastic anemia. During the treatment of cancer, some of the healthy stem cells also get damaged along with cancer cells leading to aplastic anemia.
- Frequent exposure to toxic chemicals
Individuals exposed to toxic chemicals such as insecticides, pesticides, and benzene are often prone to aplastic anemia. Avoiding the exposure to these chemicals after diagnosis can help in improving the condition.
- Viral infection
A viral infection caused by another underlying disease such as cytomegalovirus, Epstein–Barr, HIV, parvovirus B19, and hepatitis can lead to this main type of anemia. In any of these serious conditions, the viruses attack the bone marrow which weakens the stem cells.
Diagnosis of aplastic anemia
Some of the common diagnosis of aplastic anemia are:
- Blood tests
Blood samples are derived from the affected individuals to analyze the blood cell levels. In the case of aplastic anemia, the blood cell levels usually remain low.
- Bone marrow biopsy
Small quantity of bone marrow is extracted from the hipbone using a needle. This sample is sent for lab analysis to confirm the presence of aplastic anemia.
Treatment for aplastic anemia
Treatments depend on various conditions which include the severity of the disease and age. Some of the common treatment methods are:
- Blood transfusions
This treatment cannot cure the disease but can make the condition better by providing adequate blood cells required for the bone marrow. The downside of this treatment is multiple transfusions that can lead to complications because of the accumulation of iron. Excess iron content can damage other organs.
- Stem cell transplant
The damaged bone marrow is replaced with a healthy one received from a donor. This treatment works well on younger individuals with a matching donor. The patient has to undergo chemotherapy and radiation process before the bone marrow transplant. It is a risky procedure as the patient’s body may not react well to the transplant.
Patients who cannot undergo bone marrow transplant are often treated with immunosuppressants. This is done to withhold the activity of the body’s immune cells that damage the healthy bone marrow cells. The suppressants allow the bone marrow to recover and produce new blood cells.
- Bone marrow stimulants
Aplastic anaemia patients are advised to take medications to improve the production of new blood cells in the bone marrow. These medications are called bone marrow stimulants.