Bone Marrow Aspiration

Written by Brian Krans | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Paul Rudd, MD

What Is Bone Marrow Aspiration?

Bone marrow aspiration is a procedure that takes a sample from the soft tissue inside your bones.

Bone marrow is the spongy tissue found inside bones. The bone marrow contains cells that produce white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets inside larger bones such as the spine, breastbone, hips, ribs, or skull. White blood cells help fight infection. Red blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients. Platelets enable the blood to clot.

Problems with bone marrow can create lasting, serious health concerns. Examining the bone marrow where the cells are produced may help answer why the number or function of red cells, white cells, or platelets is abnormally high or low.

Bone marrow aspiration is one of many tests that can be done to test the cells of your bone marrow. This test is often performed together with a bone marrow biopsy, which uses a different type of needle to obtain a cylindrical sample.

Why Bone Marrow Aspiration Is Performed

Numerous conditions are associated with unhealthy bone marrow. If preliminary blood tests show low levels of white or red blood cells or platelets, your doctor may order a bone marrow aspiration.

The test is done to check for disease and to monitor the progression or the treatment of a specific disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, conditions and diseases related to bone marrow include:

  • anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • bone marrow diseases (such as myelofibrosis or myelodysplastic syndrome)
  • blood cell conditions (such as leucopenia or polycythemia)
  • cancers of the bone marrow or blood (such as leukemia or lymphoma)
  • hemochromatosis (a genetic disorder in which iron builds in the blood)
  • infection (especially for chronic types like tuberculosis)
  • storage diseases (like amyloidosis or Gaucher disease)

This can also be an important test while undergoing cancer treatment. It can help determine if the cancer has spread to the bones.

The Risks of Bone Marrow Aspiration

Bone marrow exams are safe. However, all medical procedures carry some type of risk. In rare instances, the following complications are possible:

The risks are rare and most often associated with conditions that cause a weakened immune system or low platelet count. A weakened immune system can make you more prone to infection, and a low platelet count increases the likelihood of excessive bleeding.

How to Prepare for Bone Marrow Aspiration

Your doctor will check your heart rate and blood pressure prior to the bone marrow aspiration. Inform your doctor of any medications you may be taking (including over-the-counter medicines or nutritional supplements), or any known allergies you have.

Your doctor may ask you to stop taking certain medications prior to the procedure. Don’t stop taking any medications unless your doctor instructs you to do so.

If you are nervous about the procedure, tell your doctor. He or she may give you a mild sedative to help you through your procedure.

Follow all of your doctor’s instructions prior to the procedure.

How Bone Marrow Aspiration Is Performed

You’ll be asked to change into a hospital gown and to lie down on your side or abdomen. Your body will be covered with a cloth with only the area of the exam showing.

Just before the procedure, you will be given local anesthesia to numb the area where the aspiration will take place. This is typically at the top ridge of the rear of the hipbone. Occasionally, it may be taken from the chest bone.

Your doctor will make a small incision so a hollow needle can get past the skin easier. The needle then goes into the bone. Your doctor uses a syringe on the back of needle to draw out the fluid portion of the marrow.

Immediately after the procedure, the incision will be bandaged and you will be taken into another room to rest before going home.

After Bone Marrow Aspiration

You may feel some slight pain for about a week after the procedure. This is typically handled easily with over-the-counter pain relievers. You will also be tasked with caring for the incision wound, which involves keeping it dry for 24 hours after the bone marrow aspiration.

While you’re caring for your wound, your bone marrow sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing. Your doctor will review test results with you during a follow-up appointment.

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