Skip to content

Information and Resources

What Is Aplastic Anemia?

Font Size
A
A
A

When you have the rare but treatable disorder known as aplastic anemia, your marrow -- the spongy substance inside your bones -- stops making new blood cells. Sometimes it stops making just one type, but more often you become low on all three: red and white cells, and platelets. 

It can develop slowly or come on suddenly. If your blood count gets low enough, it can be life-threatening.

Recommended Related to

Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)

Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is a condition that affects the bone marrow and the blood cells it produces. Your bone marrow makes different types of blood cells: Red blood cells, which carry oxygen in your blood. White blood cells of different types, which are important elements of your immune system. Platelets, which help your blood to clot. Your bone marrow needs to produce the proper number of these cells. And the cells need to have the right shape and function. In people with...

Read the Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) article > >

Who Gets It?

Anyone can get aplastic anemia, but it's more likely to happen to people in their late teens and early 20s, and the elderly. Males and females have about an equal chance of getting it. It is more common in developing countries.

There are two different types:

  • acquired aplastic anemia
  • inherited aplastic anemia

Doctors will check to determine which you have.

Inherited aplastic anemia is causes by gene defects, and is most common in children and young adults. If you have this type, there is a higher chance of developing leukemia and other cancers, so see a specialist regularly.

Acquired aplastic anemia is more common in adults. Researchers believe something triggers problems in the immune system. The possibilities include:

  • viruses like HIV or Epstein-Barr
  • certain medications
  • toxic chemicals
  • radiation or chemotherapy treatment for cancer 

 

What Are the Symptoms?

Each type of blood cell has a different role:

  • Red cells carry oxygen around the body.
  • White cells fight infections.
  • Platelets prevent bleeding.

Your symptoms depend on what type of blood cells you're low on, but you may be low on all three. These are common symptoms for each:

Low red cell count:

  • tiredness
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • pale skin
  • headaches
  • chest pain
  • irregular heartbeat

Low white cell count:

  • infections
  • fever

Low platelet count:

  • easy bruising and bleeding
  • nosebleeds

If you have some of these symptoms, your doctor may do a test called a complete blood count.  She may also take a biopsy of your bone marrow to check you for this disorder.

How Is It Treated?

If your doctor can identify the cause of your aplastic anemia and get rid of that trigger, the condition may go away. But doctors can rarely pinpoint the exact cause.

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

MS Overview
Recognizing symptoms.
feet
Solutions for 19 types.
pregnancy test and calendar
Helping you get pregnant.
build a better butt
How to build a better butt.
lone star tick
How to identify that bite.
woman standing behind curtains
How it affects you.
brain scan with soda
Tips to avoid complications.
row of colored highlighter pens
Tips for living better.
psoriasis
How to keep flares at bay.
woman dreaming
What Do Your Dreams Say About You?
spinal compression fracture
Treatment options.

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.