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Facts About Severe Aplastic Anemia

written by: Vikas Vij • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 1/20/2011

Few important facts about severe aplastic anemia are already known such as the basic cause of the disease and the common symptoms. Urgent treatment is essential for severe cases, or it can be life-threatening.

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    An Overview of Aplastic Anemia

    Aplastic anemia is a rare disease of the bone marrow. Various facts about severe aplastic anemia are known to doctors regarding the causes and symptoms of this disease. Several treatment options are also available with varying degree of effectiveness for different patients. This disease occurs when the production of red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs) and platelets go down in the bone marrow. In severe cases of this disease, the patient is at risk for life-threatening infections or bleeding. The incidence of this disease is rare in the United States, with about three out of every one million Americans being diagnosed with it every year. However, the incidence is considerably higher in Asian countries. Aplastic anemia can affect a person at any age.

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    Causes

    One of the facts about severe aplastic anemia is that the bone marrow reduces the production of RBCs, WBCs, and platelets, or in extreme cases, it stops producing them altogether. These blood cells are vital for the body’s normal functioning. RBCs carry oxygen throughout the body, WBCs build the immune system, and platelets help to manage bleeding. Blood cells have a short life, so the body needs a continuous supply, which a healthy bone marrow can provide. In a majority of cases, the doctors find it difficult to identify the cause of aplastic anemia. However, in about 20 percent of the cases, the disease originates from genetic disorders. Other causes of this disease may include high exposure to radiation or certain viruses or chemicals.

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    Symptoms

    The acuteness of symptoms depends on the low number of blood cells being produced in the bone marrow, or the severity of the disease. The common signs are fatigue, weakness, pale appearance and shortness of breath. These can be caused due to low production of RBCs in the body. Poor immunity against infections may result from a low count of WBCs. Easy bruising or bleeding which is difficult to stop may result from a low platelet count. If the symptoms are severe, it can be a life-threatening condition. To diagnose the disease, the doctors will evaluate the blood and bone marrow samples.

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    Treatment Options

    The doctor will decide the treatment depending on the severity of the symptoms. Moderate cases of this disease may not require any treatment, except a regular monitoring of the blood count to look for signs of the disease. For severe cases, urgent treatment is essential. At first, the doctor may begin with supportive care to ensure the patient is stabilized until other treatments can follow. In some cases, immunosuppressive therapy may be used with effective results. This involves a combination of drugs that help to suppress the immune system.

    For very severe cases, the preferred treatment option may be a bone marrow transplant (BMT) or cord blood transplant. In this treatment, the abnormal cells in the bone marrow are replaced with healthy, blood-forming cells. The donor for a transplant may be a close family member who matches with the patient’s tissue type. However, if a close family member or a sibling is not available an unrelated donor may be sought who matches the requirements. Further research into treatments for this disease is ongoing, so the patient may also choose to become part of a clinical trial for newer treatments with the advice of the doctor..