What is Aplastic Anemia?

Coursing through your bloodstream are red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, which all are important to your health. These blood components are produced in your bone marrow - the red, spongy core of many of your bones.

Anemia occurs when blood is low in red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body. Without enough red blood cells, your body can't get all of the oxygen it needs and you feel fatigued.

In aplastic anemia, the bone marrow stops producing enough new blood cells. This means that you have not only a deficit of red blood cells but also a shortage of white blood cells to fight germs and platelets to help blood clot. You're at higher risk of infections and uncontrolled bleeding.

Aplastic anemia is not a single disease, but a group of closely related disorders characterized by the failure of the bone marrow to produce all three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Aplastic anemia is rare, affecting fewer than 1,000 people each year in the United States. The exact cause of aplastic anemia is unknown, although it has been linked to exposure to chemicals such as benzene and radiation. It is also believed that some cases of aplastic anemia are inherited and that some cases are due to a viral infection.

The cause is a mistaken immune system response that destroys bone marrow. A condition known as secondary aplastic anemia can develop when bone marrow is damaged by cancer, chemotherapy, certain medications, pregnancy or exposure to toxic substances.

Treatments may include observation for very mild cases, medications, blood transfusions and bone marrow transplantation. Once considered nearly always fatal, aplastic anemia has a much better prognosis today thanks to advances in treatment.

Find out more about: Aplastic Anemia Symptoms

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