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Myelodysplastic Syndromes


What are myelodysplastic syndromes?

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of conditions that prevent stem cells in your bone marrow from working properly. Stem cells normally make red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), and platelets. MDS cause stem cells to grow and increase in number without control or order. The RBCs, WBCs, and platelets produced are faulty and too few in number. This increases your risk for anemia (low numbers of RBCs), abnormal bleeding, infections, and leukemia. MDS usually affect elderly people.

What causes MDS?

Certain treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, may damage your stem cells. MDS may also be caused by problems in your immune system, such as an autoimmune disease. A family history of MDS may increase your risk.

What are the signs and symptoms of MDS?

You may have pale skin, weight loss, weakness, or fatigue. You may have low blood pressure and feel dizzy when you stand up too quickly. You may have fevers or get infections easily. You may bruise easily, bleed more than usual, vomit blood, or have blood in your bowel movements.

How are MDS diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about other medical conditions you may have. He will also ask if you have a family history of MDS or autoimmune disease. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests can show the number of RBCs, WBCs, and platelets. They may also show if your blood cells are working correctly.
  • A bone marrow biopsy is a procedure to take a small amount of bone marrow from the bone in your hip. It will help your healthcare provider see what kind and how many blood forming cells are in your bone marrow.

How are MDS treated?

  • Medicines will help stop the growth of or kill faulty stem cells. It may help prevent normal stem cells from becoming defective. Other medicine will increase the number of RBCs, WBCs, or platelets. You may also need medicine to stop your immune system from attacking your stem cells, RBCs, WBCs, or platelets.
  • A blood transfusion may be given to increase RBCs or other blood cells.
  • A blood or bone marrow stem cell transplant is a procedure to put bone marrow or stem cells in your blood through an IV. The stem cells should go to your bone marrow and begin to make new, healthy blood cells.

How can I manage MDS?

It is important to reduce your risk for bleeding or bruising, and to prevent infections:

  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a child's diapers, or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
  • Stay away from others who have a cold or the flu. Also try to stay away from large groups of people. This will decrease your chance of getting sick. Treatment for MDS can decrease your ability to fight infection.
  • Ask about vaccines. These may help prevent the flu or pneumonia.
  • Ask which activities are safe for you. Contact sports may increase your risk for bleeding or bruising.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You are dizzy and feel like fainting.
  • You have chills, a cough, or feel weak and achy.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.
  • You cough up blood.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You have blood in your bowel movement.
  • You vomit blood.
  • You have a wound that does not stop bleeding.
  • You have severe abdominal pain.

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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