Aplastic Anemia

What Is Aplastic Anemia?

Aplastic anemia (a-PLAS-tik uh-NEE-me-uh) is a blood disorder in which the body’s bone marrow doesn’t make enough new blood cells. Bone marrow is a sponge-like tissue inside the bones. It makes stem cells that develop into red blood cellswhite blood cells, andplatelets (PLATE-lets).

Red blood cells carry oxygen to all parts of your body. They also carry carbon dioxide (a waste product) to your lungs to be exhaled. White blood cells help your body fight infections. Platelets are blood cell fragments that stick together to seal small cuts or breaks on blood vessel walls and stop bleeding.

It’s normal for blood cells to die. The lifespan of red blood cells is about 120 days. White blood cells live less than a day. Platelets live about 6 days. As a result, your bone marrow must constantly make new blood cells.

If your bone marrow can’t make enough new blood cells, many health problems can occur. These problems include irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias (ah-RITH-me-ahs), an enlarged heart, heart failure, infections, and bleeding. Severe aplastic anemia can even cause death.

Overview

Aplastic anemia is a type of anemia. The term “anemia” usually refers to a condition in which your blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells. Anemia also can occur if your red blood cells don’t contain enough hemoglobin (HEE-muh-glow-bin). This iron-rich protein helps carry oxygen to your body.

In people who have aplastic anemia, the body doesn’t make enough red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

Figure 2 - Schematic of Maxwell model using on...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is because the bone marrow’s stem cells are damaged. (Aplastic anemia also is called bone marrow failure.)

Many diseases, conditions, and factors can damage the stem cells. These conditions can be acquired or inherited. “Acquired” means you aren’t born with the condition, but you develop it. “Inherited” means your parents passed the gene for the condition on to you.

In many people who have aplastic anemia, the cause is unknown.

Outlook

Aplastic anemia is a rare but serious disorder. It can develop suddenly or slowly. The disorder tends to get worse over time, unless its cause is found and treated. Treatments for aplastic anemia include blood transfusionsblood and marrow stem cell transplants, and medicines.

Prognosis

If the disease is diagnosed correctly and initial treatment is begun promptly, then the survival rate for the next five to ten years is substantially improved, and many patients live well beyond that length of time. Untreated aplastic anemia leads to rapid death, typically within six months.

Survival rates vary significantly depending on age and availability of a well matched sibling donor. Five year survival rates for patients who receive transplants has been shown to be 82% for patients underneath the age of 20, 72% for those 20-40 years of age and closer to 50% for patients over the age of 40. Success rates are better for patients who have donors that are matched siblings and worse for patients who receive their marrow from unrelated donors.[6]

Older people (who are generally too frail to undergo bone marrow transplants) and people who are unable to find a good bone marrow match, who undergo immune suppression havefive year survival rates of up to 75%.[citation needed]

With prompt and proper care, many people who have aplastic anemia can be successfully treated. Blood and marrow stem cell transplants may offer a cure for some people who have aplastic anemia.

Sources: Wikipedia, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


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