Can You Tell Me About Aplastic Anemia?

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There is a rare and very serious blood disorder called, “Aplastic Anemia”. It occurs when the bone marrow stops manufacturing new blood cells. These blood cells are called, “stem cells”. Stem cells consist of platelets, white blood cells and red blood cells. Each of these different types of blood cells has a unique function within the body. The body needs the bone marrow to make new blood cells consistently because cells do not live forever. The red blood cells live about 120 days, the platelets live about 6 days and the white blood cells only live for less than a day. When the red blood cell count is too low, the condition is usually referred to as anemia. When a person has the blood disorder, aplastic anemia, the production of all types of blood cells (red, white and platelets) is too low or the manufacture of all the cells has stopped. This condition is because the stem cells have been damaged. There is no known cause for this blood disorder.

When an individual has aplastic anemia the body is not getting enough oxygen-rich blood that it needs to all the organs of the body. Red blood cells also have the function of removing carbon dioxide from the cells. Carbon dioxide is a waste product that is taken from the blood and carried to the lungs where it is then exhaled out of the body. Individuals with aplastic anemia feel tired all the time, have a heart that has to work harder to pump the blood to all the body’s organs and tissues and this causes a stress over time and can then cause the heart to beat irregularly or too fast; which may result in an enlarged heart, or may cause heart failure. If the body has too few white blood cells, the body is unable to fight off infection properly and the individual will contract illnesses and infections. The platelets are needed to form blood clots that help stop bleeding within the blood vessels. Without properly formed blood clots the individual can bleed to death.

Thankfully aplastic anemia is a rare blood disorder. Approximately only 500 to 1,000 individuals in the U.S. develop aplastic anemia each year. In the Asian countries this number doubles or triples.

There are two types of aplastic anemia: acquired and hereditary. Aplastic anemia can be acquired or triggered by toxic chemicals, chemotherapy medications, radiation, or viral infections. The direct cause of aplastic anemia is still not known.

An individual can develop aplastic anemia slowly or it can develop suddenly. It often gets worse over time. You can get mild, moderate or severe aplastic anemia. A doctor treating the individual for aplastic anemia will check the blood count frequently and adjust treatment accordingly. Treatments for aplastic anemia include blood transfusions, bone marrow transplants, and medications to suppress the immune system, stimulate the production of stem cells, and to treat infections.

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