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.
People with neutropenia have an unusually low number of cells called neutrophils. Neutrophils are cells in your immune system that attack bacteria and other organisms when they invade your body.
Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell. Your bone marrow creates these cells. They then travel in your bloodstream and move to areas of infection. They release chemicals to kill invading microorganisms.
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:
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:
shortness of breath
Low white cell count:
Low platelet count:
easy bruising and bleeding
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.
If your case isn’t severe, you may not need treatment unless or until your blood count drops below a certain level. If it does, your doctor may prescribe hormones or drugs to help your bone marrow make more blood cells. She may also suggest antibiotics and anti-fungal medications to fight infection.
If your blood count is very low, your doctor may suggest a bone marrow or stem cell transplant to boost your body’s ability to make blood cells. You would need a donor whose blood is a close match. This procedure can sometimes cure aplastic anemia, but it is most successful in younger people, with the donor marrow from a close relative.
If a transplant is not an option for you, your doctor may prescribe medication to try to stop your body from attacking your bone marrow.
Both of these treatments have serious risks, so talk with your doctor.
Living With Aplastic Anemia
If you have this disorder:
Stay away from contact sports to avoid injuries and bleeding.