Aplastic anemia is caused when bone marrow discontinues making an adequate amount of white blood cells (WBCs), red blood cells (RBCs) and platelets as needed by the human system.
It is the disease of the bone marrow, where blood cells are normal but deficient, causing anemia, referred as aplastic anemia. The disease may be mild, moderate or severe to very severe, putting one at a risk of bleeding or life threatening infections. Aplastic anemia initiate and progress slowly without any initial symptoms, gradually giving rise to serious conditions.
Around 80% of aplastic anemia is acquired from an autoimmune disease and rest 20% is hereditary. The disease may occur to any person, but is observed more commonly among the youngsters from 20 to 25 years of age. Symptoms of aplastic anemia arise when more than one form of blood cell deficiency occurs in an individual. Aplastic anemia increases individual’s risk of mortality and morbidity from infections and bleeding.
Signs and Symptoms of Aplastic Anemia
There are no specified known symptoms of aplastic anemia and many patients may get to know about it, only during blood tests performed for diagnosis of other suspected diseases. Few symptoms may appear that can be easily confused with other illnesses. Aplastic anemia gets confirmed through bone marrow biopsy and blood tests.
The commonest symptom of a reduced level of red blood count is extreme tiredness and breathlessness. Body deficient of haemoglobin get easily worn out and tend to undergo fatigue. One may experience headaches, pale skin, dizziness on standing up from sitting or lying down position, chest pain and cold feet or hands.
In absence of sufficient RBCs, heart needs to work harder to transport blood carrying oxygen to various parts of the body, leading to a heart murmur (unusual swishing or whooshing noise), irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), an enlarged heart or heart failure.
Decreased white blood cells causes the body’s immunity to get weaken and the person with low WBCs count gets prone to prolonged fevers, infections and extended flu like ailments that take longer to get recovered.
Platelets help to reseal the breaks or cuts occurring on walls of the blood vessels and stop the loss of blood. People with aplastic anemia have inadequate platelets that are inefficient in performing its function, thereby causing frequent bleeds and bruises.
The bleeding may become difficult to stop, causing an excessive loss of blood. Associated bleedings include gum bleedings, nosebleeds, passage of blood with stool and certain red spot formation under the skin surface (petechiae). Women with aplastic anemia may undergo heavy menstrual bleeds.
Uncommon Signs and Symptoms
Patients suffering from aplastic anemia may show symptoms of nausea, stomach discomfort and skin rashes. Few people can develop a red blood cell disorder, known as paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) with few or no recognizable symptoms.
Symptoms may include jaundice, shortness of breath, swelling of legs or abdomen caused by clotted blood, blood in urine and headaches. Aplastic anemia progress slowly over a period of few weeks or may be months or it could happen instantly. The illness may be brief or could turn chronic or even become fatal with time.
Aplastic Anemia Patients Need to Prevent Infections
Aplastic anemia patients are prone to infections. Even a cold may become very serious. Hence, patients have to be extra careful and protect them from all possible ways of germs infection. The affected person should avoid visiting crowded places and high infection prone places like hospitals or clinics. Any infection that occurs should be treated immediately, with utmost care.
Treatment for Aplastic Anemia
Mild form of aplastic anemia does not require treatment and symptoms need to be managed appropriately. But, in moderate forms of the disease, platelet transfusions and blood transfusions is needed, to recover from anemia and overcome the bleeding risk.
Under severe cases, when the blood cell counts become very low and life threatening, stem cell transplant or a bone marrow transplant is the only recommended solution for patients, below age of 40 years. This system is most efficient when the donor is a matched sibling donor (either a sister or brother). Older patients without a matched sibling donor may be administered drugs to suppress immune system and activate the bone marrow, to regain its ability to synthesize blood cells.
Prognosis of aplastic anemia has improved remarkably in recent years with an advancement of treatment methods like bone marrow transplant and medications like anti-thymocyte globulin that helps bone marrow to form newer blood cells. With proper and instant care, patients have been successfully recovered from the disease.
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