Aplastic anemia occurs when the bone marrow stops or slows down production of all three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

A reduced number of red blood cells causes the hemoglobin to drop, while a reduced number of white blood cells reduces the ability to fight infections. A reduced number of platelets can lead to bleeding.

Aplastic Anemia Causes

While rare, aplastic anemia is a serious condition and can develop at any age.

Aplastic anemia can be caused by a variety of things or can occur sporadically for no known reason. Causes for aplastic anemia may include, but are not limited to:

  • Recent history of a viral infectious disease
  • Previous use of medications such as antibiotics or anticonvulsants
  • Exposure to certain toxins such as heavy metals
  • Exposure to radiation
  • History of autoimmune diseases or inherited conditions

Aplastic Anemia Symptoms

Although individuals may experience symptoms differently, the most common symptoms of aplastic anemia include:

  • Headache, dizziness, nausea
  • Shortness of breath and lack of energy
  • Bruising and pale skin
  • Excessive bleeding (nosebleeds, blood in the stool, bleeding gums)
  • Fever
  • Sinus tenderness
  • Enlarged liver or spleen

Because these symptoms are similar to other medical problems, a doctor’s diagnosis is critical. In addition to a complete physical examination and medical history, your physician may rely on additional blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy to diagnose aplastic anemia.

Aplastic anemia is classified as mild, moderate, or severe. Severe aplastic anemia is life threatening and may require immediate hospitalization and treatment. Moderate and mild aplastic anemia is still serious, but usually does not require hospitalization to treat.

Aplastic Anemia Treatment

Treatment for aplastic anemia varies based on the patient age, overall health, medical history and extent of the disease. Depending on the severity of aplastic anemia, various methods of treatment are advised, such as:

  • Blood transfusions (both red blood cells and platelets)
  • Growth factors
  • Antibiotics
  • Immunosuppressive therapy (cyclophosphamide, cyclosporine, antithymocyte globulin or steroids)
  • Blood or marrow stem cell transplantation

Marrow transplantation is highly effective for treating severe aplastic anemia if done promptly using a well-matched donor. With prompt treatment, up to 90% of patients can be cured. Urgent referral to a transplant center is required for all patients with severe aplastic anemia.

Other treatments offered at Colorado Blood Cancer Institute include administering growth factor drugs.

For additional information and support, please visit the Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation.