Aplastic anemia occurs when the bone marrow does not produce enough hematopoietic stem cells. However, these are the origin of all blood cells, of which three types are: red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Aplastic anemia therefore causes three categories of symptoms. First, those that is common to different types of anemia: either the signs of a deficiency in red blood cells – and therefore a deficient oxygen transport. Then, the symptoms associated with lack of white blood cells (vulnerability to infections), and finally, the lack of blood platelets (bleeding disorders).
This is a very rare form of anemia. Depending on the case, it is acquired or inherited genetically. This disease can appear suddenly and last for a short time or become chronic. Formerly almost always fatal, aplastic anemia is now much better treated. However, if it is not treated quickly, it will get worse and lead to death. Successful patients are at greater risk of later suffering from other diseases, including cancer.
This disease can occur at any age and affects as much the man as the woman (but it is generally more serious in the man). It seems more common in Asia than in the United States or Europe.
Causes of Aplastic Anemia
In 70% to 80% of cases 6, the disease has no known cause. It is said to be a primary or idiopathic aplastic anemia. In the opposite, here are the factors that can be responsible for its appearance:
- Hepatitis (5%)
- Drugs (6%)
- Gold salts
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Anti thyroidians (used in case of hyperthyroidism)
- Toxins (3%)
- – Fifth disease – “foot-hand-mouth” (parvovirus B15)
- – Pregnancy (1%)
– Other Rare Cases
It is important to differentiate between anemia and other diseases that resemble it. Indeed, this syndrome is different from the anemias found in certain cancers and their treatment.
There is a form inherited from aplastic anemia called “Fanconi anemia”. In addition to suffering from aplastic anemia, people with this extremely rare disease are smaller than average and have various congenital anomalies. They are usually diagnosed before the age of 12 and many do not reach adulthood.
SYMPTOMS Aplastic Anemia
Those related to a low level of red blood cells: pale complexion, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, fast heart rate.
Those linked to a low level of white blood cells: increased susceptibility to infections.
Those linked to a low level of platelets: easily bruised skin, abnormal bleeding from the gums, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal system.
People at risk
This disease can occur at any age, but is more common in children, adults around the age of 30, and people over the age of 60.
There may be a genetic predisposition as in the case of Fanconi anemia.
Aplastic anemia is a rare disease. People who expose themselves to the different causes of the disease (see Causes above) increase their risk of developing it, to varying degrees.
- – Prolonged exposure to certain toxic products or radiation.
- – Use of certain drugs.
- – Certain physical conditions: diseases (leukemia, lupus), infections (hepatitis A, B, and C, infectious mononucleosis, dengue), pregnancy (very rarely).
Avoiding prolonged exposure to the above mentioned toxicants or drugs is a valid precaution at all times – not just to prevent aplastic anemia. However, in most cases, the initial appearance of the latter cannot be prevented. On the other hand, when we know the origin of anemia, it is possible to prevent recurrence by avoiding exposure to one or the other of the following factors if they are involved:
- – Toxic products;
- – Drugs at risk;
- – Radiation.
In the case of aplastic anemia due to hepatitis, the aim is to apply the recommended measures to prevent different types of hepatitis. See the Hepatitis file.
In case of severe aplastic anemia, the doctor sometimes prescribes antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections.
The disease is rare and has a high potential for complications. The care will be given by a specialist doctor in the field, most of the time with a multidisciplinary team and in an ultra specialized center.
In the first place, it will be necessary to stop taking medications possibly responsible for anemia.
Antibiotics will be needed for the prevention and treatment of any infection.
The combination of anti-thymocyte globulins for 5 days, cortisone and cyclosporine can, in some cases, induce remission of the disease 7.
The combination of anti-thymocyte globulins for 5 days, cortisone and cyclosporine can in some cases induce remission of the disease
Special care. For people with aplastic anemia, some precautions are needed in everyday life:
– Protect yourself from infections. It is important to wash your hands often with antiseptic soap and avoid contact with sick people.
– Shave with an electric razor rather than a blade to avoid cuts. Since aplastic anemia is associated with low blood platelet counts, the blood coagulates less well and blood loss should be avoided as much as possible.
– Prefer toothbrushes with soft bristles.
– Refrain from practicing contact sports. For the same reasons as those mentioned above, it is necessary to avoid any occasion of blood loss, and thus of injuries.
– Also avoid doing too intensive exercises. On the one hand, even light exercise can cause fatigue. On the other hand, in case of prolonged anemia, it is important to spare the heart. This one has to work much more because of the deficient transport of the oxygen linked to the anemia.
There is no natural treatment that has been specifically studied in the case of Aplastic anemia.
According to Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation, the use of medicinal plants and vitamins could aggravate the disease and hinder treatment. She recommends, however, a healthy diet to optimize blood production.