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Aplastic Anemia: Definitions, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Aplastic Anemia: Definitions, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Aplastic anemia is one category of a common medical disorder known as anemia. What is Aplastic anemia, one may ask? Aplastic anemia is a medical condition that harms or destroys the stem cells in the human bone marrow. Stem cells are why the body produces red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells necessary for the survival of a human being. Aplastic anemia occurs when the body lacks the ability to produce these blood cells. Various reasons can give rise to aplastic anemia. 

The range of aplastic anemia can be mild to severe. Mostly women, teenagers, and children are the victims of Aplastic anemia. A person commonly experiences symptoms like fatigue and susceptibility to infections while dealing with aplastic anemia. However, aplastic anemia is mainly curable, and its treatment includes medications in mild and stems cell transfusion in severe cases. An Ayurvedic remedy known as Shilajit Resin is also a healthy and natural way to treat aplastic anemia. It is rich in iron and humic acid, which stimulates recovering the loss of blood cells that people with aplastic anemia witness. 

Symptoms of Aplastic Anemia 

The blood cells have assigned jobs to do in the body. Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the other various parts of the body. White blood cells strengthen the body to fight infections and free radicals. Platelets form s protective layer to prevent bleeding. This is why the symptoms of Aplastic anemia depend upon the category of blood cells that the body lacks. There are two different types of aplastic anemia: Acquired aplastic anemia and Inherited aplastic anemia. Doctors may run tests to know which one the patient has.

Genetic defects are the main cause of Inherited aplastic anemia, and this type is the most common among young adults and children. A person has higher chances of developing leukemia and other types of cancers, so following a doctor is a must. Acquired aplastic anemia is a disease that is commonly seen in adults. Experts believe something triggers health issues in the immune system of the person who has acquired symptoms of aplastic anemia. The triggering element can be viruses like HIV or Epstein-Barr, Toxic chemicals, Certain medications, or Radiation or chemotherapy sessions for cancer. However, the commonly occurring symptoms of aplastic anemia are- 

  • Fatigue.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Headache. 
  • Pale skin.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Recurring or prolonged infections.
  • Sensitive skin and bruising.
  • Nose bleed.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fever.
  • Bleeding gums.

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Causes of Aplastic Anemia

Stem cells are responsible for producing blood cells in the body. The condition of aplastic anemia targets and damages stem cells. As a result, the bone marrow gets weak and even becomes empty. The dysfunctioning of the immune system majorly causes this harm to stem cells. The immune system starts working in the opposite direction and confuses the healthy cells as infiltrators during aplastic anemia. Apart from these causes of aplastic anemia, other prominent causes are as follows:

1. Chemotherapies and Radiation Treatments-

Though the cancer-fighting therapies kill the life-threatening cancer cells, they also damage the healthy cells too; sometimes, these healthy cells include the stem cells in the bone marrow as well. This is how aplastic anemia can be a temporary side effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

2. Exposing The Body To Toxic Chemicals-

Toxic chemicals like those used in insecticides or pesticides and benzene (an ingredient in gasoline) often have links with aplastic anemia. If people do not avoid regular exposure to these harmful chemicals, then there are higher chances that they might get aplastic anemia. This is why a person must cover the face (mouth and nose) if it is essential to work in such areas to avoid illnesses like aplastic anemia. 

3. Use of Certain Medicines and Drugs-

Some medicines and drugs like ones used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and or any type of antibiotics can become a reason behind aplastic anemia.

4. Autoimmune Disorders-

An autoimmune disease where the immune system, because of some dysfunction, starts destroying the healthy cells, might even harm stem cells in the bone marrow, and become a cause of aplastic anemia.

5. Viral Infection-

Some viral infections affect the bone marrow and play an important role in developing aplastic anemia. Viruses that may have links with aplastic anemia include hepatitis, HIV, cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr, and parvovirus B19.

6. Pregnancy and Lactation Period-

Due to medicines and other medical conditions, the immune system might attack women’s bone marrow during pregnancy or lactation period and cause aplastic anemia.

7. Undetectable Causes-

In some cases, doctors cannot find the underlying factors or causes of aplastic anemia (idiopathic aplastic anemia).

Also See: Causes of Irregular Periods

Diagnosis and Treatment of Aplastic Anemia- 

A doctor usually begins by asking about the symptoms of the patient along with the medical history. They may even run a blood test known as the complete blood count (CBC) to evaluate the count of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in a patient’s body. If all three blood components are detected low, the patient is then said to have Pancytopenia. A doctor may also recommend checking the sample of bone marrow to check the possibility of aplastic anemia. The sample is usually taken from the hips or pelvis of the patient. A laboratory technician will then examine the bone marrow sample. If the patient has aplastic anemia, the bone marrow will not have the typical stem cells present in their sample. Sometimes, a person with some other medical conditions can also develop aplastic anemia. These conditions include the following: 

  • Fanconi Anemia
  • Schwachman-Diamond Syndrome.
  • Telomere diseases.
  • Ataxia-Pancytopenia Syndrome. 

Doctors usually have two concerns when they treat aplastic anemia. The first one is to remove the symptoms, and the second is to enhance the function of bone marrow so that it can create new blood cells. People who have aplastic anemia may also receive blood and platelet transfusions to rectify low blood counts. A doctor may also prescribe a few antibiotics so that the patient can manage to fight infections. Ideally, these antibiotics will prevent further infections until the patient’s new white blood cells are formed while dealing with aplastic anemia. Doctors generally prescribe bone marrow transplants to stimulate the growth of new cells in the long term.

To treat severe disease cases of aplastic anemia, a doctor may first recommend chemotherapy treatment to kill the abnormal bone marrow cells that affect the patient’s overall function of marrow function ultimately curbing aplastic anemia. Next, a doctor performs a bone marrow transfusion by injecting the bone marrow into the patient’s body through surgery. In most cases of aplastic anemia and other diseases, the patient receives the bone marrow from a close family member as their cells are mostly identical with the patient’s bone marrow stem cells. However, the stem cells even of the siblings match only 20–30% in many of the cases. In some lucky cases, if a compatible donor is found and ready to donate their bone marrow, then doctors perform the blood transfusion easily to treat the disease and aplastic anemia. 

Some people are not able to bear the consequences of bone marrow transplants, especially older patients and those who face health issues like aplastic anemia while recovering from chemotherapy treatment. In unfortunate cases, patients are not able to find a compatible stem cell donor for blood transfusion. In such type of situations, a doctor may prescribe immunosuppressive therapy to the patient to recover from aplastic anemia. Immunosuppressive medicines suppress the immune system to curb aplastic anemia and rightly obstruct the immune system from harming the healthy bone marrow cells. Examples of this type of medication include anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) and cyclosporine.

According to NORD, a good one-third of people with aplastic anemia face issues responding to immunosuppressive drugs. To replace this, doctors may recommend some other advanced therapies and medicines to treat aplastic anemia. 

The bottom line for aplastic anemia is that people should take care of the underlying health factors vital for controlling such diseases. In daily life, factors like age, diet, lifestyle matter to regulate aplastic anemia. In old age, people face much difficulty in dealing with aplastic anemia and the consequences of its treatment. Dietary and suitable lifestyle factors also gradually contribute to lower the intensity of aplastic anemia. In severe cases, an easy match with the compatible donor is essential. In most cases, the siblings are the correct match for the bone marrow transplant. All in all, it can be said that mild aplastic anemia is normal to treat; however, complex treatments that involve chemotherapies and radiation leave their impact and take more time to treat aplastic anemia.

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FAQs About Aplastic Anemia

Q.1 Can a person die from aplastic anemia? 

Ans. People who have mild or moderate aplastic anemia do not have to worry about serious consequences. However, in some complex cases of severe aplastic anemia where a bone marrow transfusion is necessary, the patient is at the risk of some serious consequences. Getting a severe infection and too much bleeding is life-threatening for the patients, which may even lead to death. 

Q.2 Is Aplastic anemia a type of cancer? 

Ans. People affected with acquired aplastic anemia sometimes are at the risk of evolving another similar disorder called as myelodysplasia. In a few cases, acquired aplastic anemia may eventually develop into leukemia or another type of cancer. Even when it is not acquired, aplastic anemia is not a malignant disease (cancer). But it can be very serious, especially if the bone marrow is severely damaged and fewer blood cells are left in circulation.

Also See: Common Symptoms of Anemia

Q.3 What are the early signs of aplastic anemia?

Ans. Fatigue, headache, heavy bleeding in women, dizziness, etc., are some early signs of aplastic anemia.

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