Aplastic anaemia is a medical condition in which the body of a person stops producing the required amount of new blood cells. This causes a person to feel extremely fatigued and increases the chances of infection and uncontrolled bleeding. This is a very rare disease and often has serious complications. Aplastic anaemia can develop at any age suddenly or increase gradually and worsen over time. The impact of the condition can be severe or mild, depending on the patient.
Symptoms of Aplastic Anemia
Generally, aplastic anaemia might not have any symptoms in the early stages. However, in case a person experiences symptoms, these will include:
- Extreme tiredness
- Pale skin
- Rapid and irregular heart rate
- Consistent and prolonged infections
- Easy bruising without a specific cause
- Bleeding gums
- Skin rashes
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Prolonged bleeding from the cuts
- Loss of appetite
The condition can be severe, mild or can even become fatal depending on the case. It could also be short-lived or can become chronic to life.
Causes of Aplastic Anemia
Aplastic anaemia occurs when the patient’s immune system starts to attack the stem cells in the bone marrow. These stem cells are the ones which produce blood cells in the body including red blood cells, white cells and platelets. In aplastic anaemia, these stem cells are attacked and damaged, thereby causing symptoms and problems. However, some other factors which can damage the bone marrow and affect the stem cells include:
- Radiation and chemotherapy treatments
- Long-term exposure to toxic chemicals
- Use of certain drugs and medicines
- Auto-immune diseases
- Viral infections
- Unknown factors
Diagnosis of Aplastic Anemia
Apart from an assessment of the symptoms, the following tests will help to detect aplastic anaemia condition in a person. These include:
- Blood tests to check the ranges of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. In patients that have aplastic anaemia, the count of all three is below the normal levels.
- Bone marrow biopsy by using a needle to remove a small sample of the bone marrow tissue and checked microscopically to rule out other blood-related problems. In aplastic anaemia, the biopsy sample will show fewer blood cells than normal levels. This is the fundamental method to confirm the aplastic anaemia condition in patients.
Treatment of Aplastic Anemia
Treatment of aplastic anaemia depends on the severity of the problem, symptoms, age and general health of the patient. Severe cases which have few blood cells are life-threatening and will require immediate medical treatment and hospitalization.
Blood transfusion: Not a definitive treatment, but blood transfusion can help control the bleeding and relieve some symptoms by infusing new cells in the body. These include red blood cells which help relieve anaemia and fatigue or this can also include platelets to prevent excessive bleeding. A person might require more than one blood transfusion depending on the case. Blood transfusions tend to accumulate iron in the body in excessive levels which can in turn damage the vital organs of the body, if not treated timely.
Stem cell transplant: This is a very successful treatment option in which the patient’s bone marrow is rebuilt with stem cells from a donor. This is also called a bone marrow transplant and generally is more suitable for younger patients that have a matching donor.In this, the damaged bone marrow is first depleted with radiation or chemotherapy and then healthy stem cells from the donor are filtered and injected intravenously into the bloodstream from where they migrate to the bone marrow cavity. Over time, the bone marrow starts producing new blood cells.
Immunosuppressant: For cases, where a stem transplant is not a viable option or the disease is caused due to an auto-immune disorder, the doctors will suggest drugs that alter or suppress the immune system.
Bone marrow stimulants: There are certain drugs which can be given to the patients with mild aplastic anaemia to stimulate their bone marrow to produce new blood cells. This is used in combination with immunosuppressants.
Prevention of Aplastic Anemia
There is no definitive prevention plan to avoid aplastic anaemia. However, certain risk factors such as below can be avoided to prevent the chances of the disease occurrence.
- Treatment with high-doses of radiation or chemotherapy
- Exposure to toxic and harmful chemicals
- Certain occupations which are more prone to exposure of insecticides, herbicides, organic solvents, paint removers, etc.
- Prescription drugs
However, people with a certain blood disease, auto-immune disorders and serious infections are at a high risk of contracting the problem. Though studying the body for any early symptoms and seeking timely help will majorly help with the case and improvise chances of treatment.