Aplastic Anemia

What is aplastic anemia?

In the body, the bone marrow is responsible for making blood cells. In aplastic anemia, the bone marrow does not produce enough red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This rare condition can occur suddenly or slowly develop and get worse over time. It can also occur at any age. Cases can be mild, severe, or even fatal.
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As a result of the lack of red blood cells, the hemoglobin level is also low. Hemoglobin is located in the red blood cells and is responsible for carrying oxygen through the body. Red blood cells are also responsible for carrying carbon dioxide to the lungs to be exhaled. Due to a decreased amount of red blood cells, people with aplastic anemia often feel fatigued, and possibly short of breath. White blood cells play a role in fighting off infections. Since the levels of white blood cells are also low in people with aplastic anemia, they are at an increased risk for infection. The role of platelets is to stick together (clot) to help heal breaks in a blood vessel or cuts. People with aplastic anemia are at an increased risk for uncontrolled bleeding due to the lack of sufficient number of platelets. 
Risk factors
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals (such as heavy metals, arsenic, and benzene)
  • Chemotherapy treatment
  • Treatment with high-dose radiation
  • Pregnancy (in rare cases)
  • History of certain infectious diseases (such as HIV, hepatitis, Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, or parvovirus B19) 
  • Certain blood disorders
  • Using certain prescription drugs (such as certain antibiotics and anticonvulsants) 
  • Having certain inherited conditions (such as Fanconi anemia, Shwachman-Diamond syndrome, dyskeratosis congenita, and Diamond-Blackfan anemia)
Your doctor will do a complete medical history and physical exam, paying close attention to any symptoms you may be having.
Some tests that can be done to diagnose aplastic anemia include:
  • Blood tests: Your doctor will likely take a blood sample to detect if you have a low number of red cells, white cells, and platelets.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: This test is done in order to confirm the diagnosis. A needle removes a sample of bone marrow from a large bone in the body. This sample of bone marrow is then examined under a microscope to rule out any other disorders and to look at the number of blood cells in the marrow. 
In mild cases of this condition no treatment may be needed besides observation. Other treatment methods that may be indicated for aplastic anemia include:
  • Blood transfusions
  • Stem cell (bone marrow) transplant
  • Immunosuppressant medications
  • Bone marrow stimulants 
  • Antibiotics 
  • Antivirals 
  • Aplastic anemia occurs in approximately 1 or 2 million people each year
  • There are approximately 600-900 new cases of aplastic anemia in the U.S. each year 
  • Aplastic anemia can occur at any age regardless of race or gender but occurs more often in children, young adults, and older adults
  • Bone marrow transplantation cures over 1/2 of younger adults who were in good health prior to the transplant and have a matched donor
about aplastic anemia

  • "Aplastic anemia." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 24 Nov. 2016. Web. 15 Aug. 2017.
  • "Aplastic Anemia." | Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2017.
  • “Aplastic Anemia: Bone Marrow Program Overview.” Cleveland Clinic. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2017.
  • “Aplastic Anemia.” The Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation, 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 15 Aug. 2017.
  • “What is Aplastic Anemia?” National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 22 Aug. 2012. Web. 15 Aug. 2017. 
  • “Aplastic Anemia.” St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2017. 


Hematology is a branch of medicine that is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of these blood disorders. If you think you may be suffering from a blood disorder, it is important you visit your primary care physician. If they find any abnormalities in your blood work, they may refer you to a hematologist. Treatment for blood disorders can be lengthy, which is why it is a good idea to make sure you have a strong relationship with your hematologist from the beginning. Here are three tips for choosing a hematologist:
blood disorders - coping and choosing a hematologist


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