Idiopathic Aplastic Anemia

Written by Kristeen Moore | Published on July 18, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is Idiopathic Aplastic Anemia?

Idiopathic aplastic anemia is a condition where your bone marrow stops making new blood cells. This can cause major health complications.

This condition is rare. However, it can be fatal if left untreated. If you have symptoms of aplastic anemia, see your doctor right away.

What is Anemia?

People with anemia don’t have enough functioning red blood cells (RBCs). RBCs are responsible for carrying oxygen. When you are anemic, your body does not transport oxygen efficiently. This can make you tired and weak.

RBCs carry oxygen using a protein called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is necessary for efficient oxygen transport. It tightly binds oxygen in areas with high oxygen. Then, in areas that need oxygen, it releases it. Hemoglobin also makes your blood look red.

Hemoglobin contains iron. The iron is necessary for it to bind oxygen. Many cases of anemia stem from an iron deficiency. These types of anemia are easily treatable. However, aplastic anemia starts with a bone marrow problem. It is not caused by iron deficiency.

Causes of Aplastic Anemia

Aplastic anemia is caused by damage to the bone marrow.

Stem cells in the marrow normally make blood cells including:

  • RBCs
  • white blood cells (WBCs)
  • platelets

In people with aplastic anemia, this process is disrupted. Stem cells are damaged and too few blood cells are made.

Numerous conditions can damage your bone marrow. In people with idiopathic aplastic anemia, the cause of that damage is unknown. That’s what “idiopathic” means.

Some scientists think that this may be an autoimmune condition. In autoimmune diseases, the body attacks its own cells like an infection.

Aplastic anemia is not caused by iron deficiency.

Symptoms of Aplastic Anemia

The symptoms of this condition are similar to those of general anemia. When your RBC count is low, you may experience:

  • dizziness
  • excessive fatigue
  • sensitivity to cold temperatures
  • weakness
  • rapid heart rate
  • irritability
  • paleness
  • shortness of breath

Low platelet counts can cause:

  • nose bleeds
  • bleeding in the gums
  • the skin to bruise easily
  • rash with small pinpoints

The effects of idiopathic aplastic anemia on WBC levels are not easy to detect. However, with fewer WBCs, you will be more susceptible to infections.

Diagnosing Idiopathic Aplastic Anemia

All types of anemia are first diagnosed with a blood test. A complete blood count (CBC) will show if you have low levels of RBCs, WBCs, and platelets.

Once anemia is diagnosed, its cause must be determined. If your doctor suspects aplastic anemia, you may need a bone marrow biopsy. A needle will be inserted into your hip bone to collect the marrow. The sample will be examined to see how many stem cells are present.

Your doctor will classify your idiopathic aplastic anemia as acute or chronic. Acute cases come on suddenly. They are quite severe. Your condition is likely to worsen quickly. Chronic cases develop more slowly. However, they are just as—if not more—difficult to treat.

Treatment Options for Aplastic Anemia

Treatment depends on the severity of your condition. Some mild forms don’t require treatment. However, many moderate cases require blood and platelet transfusions. Transfusions are generally necessary for acute cases.

Bone marrow transplants can be used to treat severe cases. This technique replaces your stem cells with those from a donor. It works best in patients under 40 years who have sibling donors.

Long-Term Outlook

Severe and acute idiopathic aplastic anemia can be fatal. Proper treatment is key. Younger patients have the best survival rates. They generally respond well to treatment.

Potential treatment complications include:

  • adverse drug reactions
  • infections
  • severe bleeding
  • bone marrow transplant failure

Aplastic Anemia Prevention

There is no known way to prevent idiopathic aplastic anemia. Unlike other forms of anemia, it cannot be prevented using iron supplements.

Pay attention to your body. Talk to your doctor if you develop anemia symptoms. Prompt treatment can help keep you feeling well.

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