Aplastic anemia is caused by damage to the bone marrow which can be due to viruses, some drugs, and radiation exposure. Some scientists think that this may be an autoimmune condition. In autoimmune diseases, the body attacks its cells like an infection. Many times cause cannot be ascertained, and it is labeled as Idiopathic Aplastic Anemia.
Stem cells in the marrow usually make blood cells including:
- White blood cells (WBCs)
In people with aplastic anemia, this process is disrupted. Stem cells are damaged, and too few blood cells are made.
Symptoms of Aplastic Anemia
The symptoms of this condition are similar to those of general anemia. When your RBC count is low, you may experience:
- excessive fatigue
- sensitivity to cold temperatures
- rapid heart rate
- shortness of breath
Low platelet counts can cause:
- nose bleeds
- bleeding in the gums
- the skin to bruise easily
- rash with small pinpoints
The effects of idiopathic aplastic anemia on WBC levels are not easy to detect. However, with fewer WBCs, you will be more susceptible to infections.
Diagnosing Idiopathic Aplastic Anemia
All types of anemia are first diagnosed with a blood test. A complete blood count (CBC) will show if you have low levels of RBCs, WBCs, and platelets.
Once anemia is diagnosed, its cause must be determined. If your doctor suspects aplastic anemia, you may need a bone marrow biopsy. A needle will be inserted into your hip bone to collect the marrow. The sample will be examined to see how many stem cells are present.
Treatment Options for Aplastic Anemia
Mild cases can be treated with immunosuppressive agents (Cyclosporine CSA or Anti-Thymocyte Globulin ATG).
Bone Marrow Transplant
For moderate to severe cases, if an HLA-matched donor is available, bone marrow transplant should be considered as the first option. If no matched donor is available, then immunosuppressive therapy (ATG + CSA) can be tried.
In cases of failed ATG therapy & no matched donor available, unrelated donor/half-matched donor BMT can be done.
The key to success in aplastic anemia is early diagnosis & early treatment.
Aplastic Anemia Prevention
There is no known way to prevent idiopathic aplastic anemia. Unlike other forms of anemia, it cannot be prevented using iron supplements.
Pay attention to your body. Talk to your doctor if you develop anemia symptoms. Prompt treatment can help keep you feeling well.