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Aplastic Anemia


What is aplastic anemia?

Aplastic anemia is when your body stops making new red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), and platelets. RBCs, WBCs, and platelets are made in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is soft, spongy tissue inside the bone. RBCs carry oxygen to all the organs and tissues of your body. WBCs help your body fight infection by attacking and killing germs. Platelets stop the bleeding when you are cut or injured.

What causes aplastic anemia?

The cause of aplastic anemia may not be known. You may have been born with aplastic anemia. One of the following may have damaged your bone marrow and caused aplastic anemia:

  • Radiation or chemotherapy treatments
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals, such as insecticides or pesticides
  • Antibiotics or medicines to treat rheumatoid arthritis
  • Viral infection
  • Autoimmune disorder that causes your immune system to attack your own bone marrow

What are the signs and symptoms of aplastic anemia?

  • Low energy level: You feel tired and weak, are dizzy, and your skin is pale. You may also be short of breath when you exercise.
  • Bruising: You bruise easily or get bruises when you have not bumped into anything.
  • Bleeding: You bleed from your gums or nose. You have blood in your bowel movement or urine. When you get a cut or injury, you bleed longer or more than usual. You have heavy monthly periods.
  • Pain or discomfort: You have headaches or a fever. You may have nausea or vomiting.
  • Infections: You get colds or infections that do not get better or keep coming back.

How is aplastic anemia diagnosed?

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to learn which types of blood cells are low. This will help healthcare providers plan your treatment.
  • Bone marrow biopsy: A sample of bone marrow is removed and sent to a lab for tests. This will help healthcare providers know which types of blood cells are low. Healthcare providers put numbing medicine into your skin so you will have little pain. A bandage is put on the biopsy area after the tissue sample is taken.

How is aplastic anemia treated?

Your other medicines or treatments may be stopped if they are causing your aplastic anemia. Ask for more information about these and other treatments you may need:

  • Medicines:
    • Bone marrow stimulants: These medicines are also called growth factor medicines. They help trigger your bone marrow to start making new RBCs, WBCs, and platelets.
    • Immunosuppressants: These medicines help prevent the body from attacking its own bone marrow. This may help the bone marrow make more blood cells.
  • Blood transfusion: You may need one or more blood transfusions to replace blood you have lost.
  • Bone marrow or stem cell transplant: Stem cells are the part of the bone marrow that make the RBCs, WBCs, and platelets. The transplanted stem cells return to the bone marrow, grow, and start producing WBCs, RBCs, and platelets. This transplant is usually done while you are in the hospital. You may be in the hospital for a month after your transplant.

What are the risks of aplastic anemia?

You may need several blood transfusions. You could have a bad reaction to a blood transfusion, such as a seizure. You are at higher risk for infections. You may have sores, swelling, or redness in your mouth or on your skin. You may have pain or burning when you urinate, or your urine may smell bad. If you have a stem cell transplant, your body could reject the new stem cells. This can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or diarrhea. Treatments may be slow to work, or not work at all. Without treatment, aplastic anemia can be life-threatening. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about the risks of aplastic anemia.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have sores, redness, or swelling in your mouth or on your skin.
  • You have pain or burning when you urinate, or your urine smells bad.
  • You have blood in your urine or bowel movements.
  • You are dizzy or more tired than usual.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have chest pain.
  • You are short of breath, even when you rest.
  • You have trouble thinking clearly.
  • You have a fever and a stiff neck.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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