Menu

What Is Pancytopenia?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 01, 2021

Your body produces three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Pancytopenia is when you have abnormally low amounts of all three types of blood cells. It can be caused by diseases, medicines, or the cause may not be known. 

What Do Your Blood Cells Do?

Inside your bones, there's a spongy substance called bone marrow. Your bone marrow produces your blood cells. Your blood cells each have a specific function.

Red blood cells. Your red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin that gives them their red color. When you breathe in oxygen, it binds to the hemoglobin and is carried throughout your body. Red blood cells also get rid of carbon dioxide by taking it to your lungs to be exhaled. 

White blood cells. These are also called leukocytes. They only make up about 1% of your blood. White blood cells protect you from illnesses and diseases. They are always flowing through your blood, looking for viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders. When they find a threat, they rush in to fight it.

Platelets. Platelets are the smallest of your blood cells. They are shaped like little plates when they're not activated. When you damage a blood vessel, it sends out a signal to your platelets. Your platelets respond by rushing to the area. They bind with the damaged blood vessel by growing tentacles. This causes your blood to clot.

Pancytopenia occurs when you have a combination of three different blood disorders: 

What Are the Symptoms of Pancytopenia?

You may not have any symptoms of pancytopenia or you may have any symptoms associated with anemia, leukopenia, or thrombocytopenia. These may include: 

Anemia. Symptoms of anemia can include: 

Leukopenia. You may not have any symptoms with leukopenia. If you do, they might include { Temple Health: "Leukopenia."}: 

Thrombocytopenia. Since thrombocytopenia affects your blood's ability to clot, symptoms may include: 

Some symptoms of pancytopenia are serious and need immediate medical care. These include:  

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Fever over 101 degrees F
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Seizures
  • Convulsions
  • Extreme shortness of breath

What Causes Pancytopenia?

There are many different conditions that can cause pancytopenia. In about half of all cases, the cause is never found. That is called idiopathic pancytopenia. In some parts of the world, pancytopenia is caused by poor nutrition.  

In North America, most cases of pancytopenia are related to the uncontrolled growth of cells. These are called neoplastic conditions, and they can be cancerous or noncancerous. 

Pancytopenia can be caused by disorders that cause your bone marrow to produce too few blood cells or by disorders that cause your body to destroy blood cells too quickly. You may have underlying causes that do one or that do both. 

Some possible causes of pancytopenia include: 

How Is Pancytopenia Diagnosed?

Your doctor will listen to your symptoms and ask you about your medical history. They will perform a physical exam. If they think you may have pancytopenia, they may do some other tests, including: 

How Is Pancytopenia Treated?

Treatment for pancytopenia is based on the underlying cause. 

  • A nutritional deficiency can be fixed through diet. 
  • Doctors may tell you to stop taking a certain medication if it is causing the condition. 
  • Doctors will treat any underlying infections that may cause pancytopenia, such as HIV or tuberculosis.
  • If you've been exposed to toxins, they will need to be removed from your environment. 

There are several options for treating pancytopenia itself, depending on the cause and the severity of your symptoms. Some options may include:  

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

AboutKidsHealth: "Bone marrow and the immune system."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "What are Platelets and Why are They Important?"

Mayo Clinic: "Anemia," "Thrombocytopenia."

MedicineNet: "What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Pancytopenia?"

Saint Jude Children's Research Hospital: "Pancytopenia."

StatPearls: "Pancytopenia."

Temple Health: "Leukopenia."

University of Rochester Medical Center: "What Are White Blood Cells?"

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.