Aplastic anemia is a rare but serious blood disorder. It happens when something damages your bone marrow so it can’t make enough new blood cells and platelets. Left untreated, aplastic anemia is a life-threatening condition. Healthcare providers can treat aplastic anemia, but a stem cell transplantation is the only cure.
Aplastic anemia is a rare but serious blood disorder. It happens when your bone marrow can’t make enough blood cells and platelets. People with aplastic anemia have an increased risk of serious infections, bleeding issues, heart issues and other complications. There are treatments to manage aplastic anemia symptoms, but a stem cell transplantation is the only cure.
Each year, 300 to 900 people in the United States receive an aplastic anemia diagnosis. Studies show aplastic anemia affects 2 in 1 million people in Europe. Anyone can develop aplastic anemia, but it typically affects people ages 15 to 25 and age 60 and older.
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Aplastic anemia symptoms usually develop over weeks and months, so you may not notice changes in your body right away. In some cases, people have immediate severe symptoms. If you do develop symptoms, they may include:
Some aplastic anemia symptoms mimic other, less serious illnesses. Having a cold or flu doesn’t mean you have aplastic anemia. You should talk to a healthcare provider if you’ve been sick for several weeks and you feel very tired all the time.
Experts don’t know all the reasons why you may develop aplastic anemia, but it typically happens when your immune system attacks your bone marrow so it can’t make stem cells. Certain medical conditions, inherited conditions, medical treatments and exposure to certain carcinogens may increase your risk of developing aplastic anemia.
Medical conditions that can increase your risk include:
Experts link aplastic anemia to several inherited bone marrow failure syndromes. Bone marrow failure happens when your bone marrow doesn’t produce enough stem cells. Inherited conditions include:
Certain medical treatments put you at a higher risk of developing aplastic anemia, such as:
Extended exposure to carcinogens, such as arsenic and benzene, may also increase your risk of developing aplastic anemia.
People with aplastic anemia may have the following complications, some of which may be life-threatening:
Treatments vary depending on your situation. For example, some people develop aplastic anemia because they’re receiving cancer or autoimmune disease treatments. In that case, providers may be able to treat aplastic anemia by changing the treatments.
If tests show your blood cell levels are lower than normal and you don’t have symptoms, providers may say you have moderate aplastic anemia. In that case, your provider may recommend monitoring your overall health and blood counts so they can move quickly if it looks as if your condition is getting worse.
Treatments for more serious forms of aplastic anemia include:
Side effects differ based on treatments:
There’s no known way to prevent aplastic anemia.
Depending on your situation, a successful allogeneic stem cell transplantation may cure the condition. In general, children and people age 40 and younger are more likely to have successful treatment than people who are older.
Many factors affect survival rates, including your age and your treatment. According to one study, overall 96% of people were alive after their stem cell transplantation. That same study showed 100% of children and adults under age 40 were alive five years after treatment.
Regardless of your situation, it’s important to remember survival rates reflect the experiences of large groups of people with a specific condition. What was true for them may not be true for you. If you have questions about aplastic anemia survival rates, your healthcare provider is your best resource for information.
You can take care of yourself by following your treatment plan and monitoring your symptoms. Here are some other suggestions:
Contact your provider if:
If you have aplastic anemia, you may want to ask the following questions:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Aplastic anemia is a rare but serious blood disorder. It typically happens when your immune system attacks your bone marrow so it can’t make the blood cells and platelets your body needs. Many things may cause aplastic anemia, and you may be frustrated and worried about having a disease with many potential causes. But even if your healthcare providers can’t pinpoint a cause, they can treat the condition and sometimes cure it. If you have aplastic anemia, your healthcare provider will outline treatment options and side effects so you know what to expect.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/22/2023.
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