Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When RBCs are low, the body does not get enough oxygen.
Aplastic anemia is a type of anemia caused by problems with bone marrow. It is a rare condition. It can range from moderate to severe, and in some cases, it can be life-threatening.
Aplastic anemia is believed to be caused by the patient’s immune system attacking the bone marrow. It slows down the production of blood cells. In some cases, aplastic anemia is a temporary side effect of a medication. It can be reversed if exposure to the cause is stopped.
Factors that may increase your chances of having aplastic anemia include:
The cause of aplastic anemia is sometimes unknown.
Symptoms of aplastic anemia include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
After you are diagnosed with aplastic anemia, you may need additional tests to determine the cause.
You will be referred to a blood disorder specialist, a hematologist, or a special treatment center for further evaluation.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment for aplastic anemia varies according to severity and cause.
Blood transfusions provide your body with the blood cells that your bone marrow has stopped producing. This is not a cure. It helps relieve symptoms.
These medications change or slow your immune system to keep it from damaging your bone marrow cells. This gives your bone marrow time to recover and begin producing blood cells again. These medications are sometimes used along with steroids to reduce side effects. This treatment often requires a short stay in the hospital.
The replacement of diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow is the best treatment option for some with severe aplastic anemia. You will need a donor whose bone marrow matches your own as closely as possible.
Your aplastic anemia may be mild to moderate. It may also be caused by exposure to radiation, chemicals, or medications. Your doctor may choose to monitor your condition if the cause of the aplastic anemia is stopped. This approach can be enough to restore normal bone marrow function.
Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Aplastic Anemia and Myelodysplasia Association of Canada
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Ahn M, Choi J, et al. Outcome of adult severe or very severe aplastic anemia treated with immunosuppressive therapy compared with bone marrow transplantation: Multicenter trial. Int J Hematol. 2003;78:133-138.
Dokal I. Inherited aplastic anemia. Hematol J. 2003; 4:3-9.
Locasciulli A. Acquired aplastic anemia in children: incidence, prognosis, and treatment options. Paediatr Drugs. 2002;4:761-766.
Loughran T Jr, Storb R. Treatment of aplastic anemia. Hematol Oncol Clin North Am. 1990;4:559-575.
Young NS. Acquired aplastic anemia. Ann Intern Med. 2002;136:534-546.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.