I was diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia last month. Over the past few weeks prior to the diagnosis, I suffered from a severe headache and shortness of breath. My heart rate would suddenly be really fast or erratic. My skin became paler day by day. I would feel dizzy for no reason at all. Then, I visited a doctor at the local hospital. He took a few blood tests. My Haemoglobin count was 6 which was considerably less than the normal value of 12 g/dL.
The doc sent me to a hematologist called Dr. Grant. He looked at my low blood cell count and requested a bone marrow biopsy right away. The lab technicians gave me a local anesthetic, then drilled into the back of my pelvic pain and took out a small sample to test. The results confirmed that I had Aplastic anemia.
My Experience About Aplastic Anemia
Luckily, Dr. Grant was really honest and direct with me. He told me how my life would turn out in the days to come. He explained this rare condition I had in detail. My bone marrow was damaged to an extent that it was no longer making adequate healthy blood cells. He went on to say that there was no cure for Aplastic anemia. However, a patient needs to follow through with regular check-ups and blood transfusions. Here, I would describe my experience with this disease until today. I hope a fellow sufferer reads this and discovers that he is not alone in his struggles.
- What Is Aplastic Anemia?
- Bone Marrow Transplant
What Is Aplastic Anemia?
- Aplastic Anemia is a disease in which the stem cells of the bone marrow stop working properly. Their work, which is the synthesis of blood cells, is left undone. By bone marrow aplasia, we mean lack of functioning bone marrow.
- For instance, exposure to high dose radiation or chemotherapy for cancer treatment can damage stem cells of the bone marrow, followed in a few weeks by anemia.
- Likewise, high doses of certain toxic chemicals, such as benzene in gasoline or insecticides, may cause the same effect.
- In autoimmune disorders such as Lupus Erythematosus, the immune system begins attacking healthy cells such as bone marrow stem cells, which may lead to Aplastic Anemia.
- In about half of Aplastic anemia cases, the cause is usually unknown. Such cases are termed as Idiopathic Aplastic Anemia.
Symptoms Of Aplastic Anemia
Some symptoms of Aplastic anemia that I have noticed in myself or my fellow patients are:
- Shortness of breath
- Erratic heart rate
- Unexplained or easy bruising
- Nosebleeds and bleeding gums
- Heart failure
- Enlarged heart
The progression of Aplastic anemia may be slow or time-consuming. It may take weeks or months to develop. Sometimes, it is acute while at other times, it may be chronic. It is a life-threatening condition as blood cells of all times are not formed.
Confusion with Myelodysplastic Syndrome
Some clinicians confuse Aplastic anemia with myelodysplastic syndrome. This is because, in MDS, the bone marrow produces unhealthy blood cells. The blood cells formed are immature and underdeveloped. Some patients with MDS have an empty marrow that is difficult to distinguish from an aplastic marrow. This is why MDS and Aplastic anemia gets mixed up in clinical settings.
Types Of Aplastic Anemia
There are two types:
- Acquired Aplastic Anemia
- Inherited Aplastic Anemia
Acquired Aplastic Anemia
Acquired Aplastic Anemia occurs as a result of environmental factors that trigger inhibition of blood cells formation. It is more common in adults. These factors may be:
- Epstein-Barr and HIV Viruses
- Toxic chemicals
- Certain medications
- Radiation or chemotherapy treatment for cancer
- Autoimmune disorders such as SLE
Inherited Aplastic Anemia
This type of Aplastic Anemia is caused by genetic factors such as faulty genes. It is more common in children and younger adults. It may lead to leukemia and other cancers. Hence, you must see a specialist regularly.
Your doctor will diagnose Aplastic anemia after studying your medical and family histories. He will perform a physical exam and perform some tests like a biopsy of the bone marrow. Once your doctor knows the cause and severity of your condition, he/she will devise a treatment plan for you. Treatments include regular blood transfusions, medications and stem cell transplant. Avoid exposure to fungicides, insecticides, chemical toxins, synthetic paints, and organic solvents.
Bone Marrow Transplant
A stem cell transplant is the most favorable transplant for the young people suffering from this disease. This procedure involves the rebuilding of bone marrow by using cells from a donor. The donor is usually a family member or a sibling.
- When a donor is found, the patient’s damaged bone marrow is discarded by use of radiation or chemotherapy.
- Healthy stem cells are filtered from the donor’s blood.
- These stem cells are injected intravenously into the patient’s blood supply.
- Once in the patient’s body, these cells migrate to his bone marrow and start synthesizing healthy blood cells.
A bone marrow transplant is the last option for people suffering from chronic Aplastic anemia. But it is rarely successful. Although donor stem cells are introduced into the recipient’s body, rejection of these stem cells may occur. Also, not everyone is suitable for transplantation or can find a matching donor. Also, this procedure is very costly and requires a lengthy hospital stay.
This type of anemia is a serious but rare blood disorder. The bone marrow fails to synthesize adequate amounts of healthy blood cells. There are three types of blood cells. The red cells carry oxygen throughout the body. The white blood cells fight off infection. The platelets make clots at the site of injury. When the level of blood cells declines, the systems of the body shut down. There is no proper cure for Aplastic anemia. It is possible to get rid of the condition only if the doctor can pinpoint the exact cause. Usually, doctors fail to find the specific etiology that have caused the symptoms.
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