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Aplastic Anemia

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2022.

What is aplastic anemia?

Aplastic anemia is when your body stops making new red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are made in the bone marrow. Bone marrow is soft, spongy tissue inside the bone. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all the organs and tissues of your body. White blood cells 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. Any 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
  • A viral infection
  • An autoimmune disorder that causes your immune system to attack your own bone marrow

What are the signs and symptoms of aplastic anemia?

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Headaches or dizziness
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Shortness of breath when you exercise
  • Bruising easily, or getting bruises when you have not bumped into anything
  • Bleeding from your gums or nose, blood in your bowel movement or urine, or bleeding longer or more than usual after a cut
  • Fever, nausea, vomiting
  • Colds or infections that do not get better or keep coming back

How is aplastic anemia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood tests are used to find which types of blood cells are low. This will help healthcare providers plan your treatment.
  • A bone marrow biopsy is a procedure used to take a sample of bone marrow. This will help healthcare providers know which types of blood cells are low.
    Bone Marrow Aspiration

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 may be given to help trigger your bone marrow to start making new red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. You may also need medicines to help prevent your body from attacking its own bone marrow. This may help the bone marrow make more blood cells.
  • A blood transfusion may be needed to replace blood you have lost. You may need more than one transfusion.
  • A bone marrow or stem cell transplant is a procedure used to replace your stem cells with healthy cells. Stem cells are the part of the bone marrow that make the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The transplanted stem cells return to the bone marrow, grow, and start producing red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to manage aplastic anemia?

  • Rest as much as possible. Aplastic anemia can cause you to feel more tired than usual.
  • Avoid people who are sick. The medicines and treatments for aplastic anemia decrease your ability to fight infection. Try to avoid large groups of people. This will decrease your chance of getting sick.
  • Wash your hands often. This will help prevent the spread of germs. Encourage everyone in your house to wash their hands with soap and water after they go to the bathroom. Also wash hands after changing diapers and before preparing or eating food.
  • Clean your mouth and gums every day. This will help prevent a mouth infection. Brush your teeth and rinse your mouth with water at least 2 times each day. Use a soft bristle toothbrush. Change the water in your denture cup every day.
  • Avoid doing things that would cause you to bump or cut yourself. Do not play contact sports such as football or soccer. Use an electric razor to shave. Use nail clippers or a nail file to keep your nails short and smooth.

Call 911 if:

  • You have chest pain.

When should I seek immediate care?

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

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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.

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 healthcare providers 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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Learn more about Aplastic Anemia

Treatment options

Symptoms and treatments

Further information

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