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What Is Aplastic Anemia?

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.

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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.

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