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Home >> Specialities >> Blood & Marrow Transplantation >> Severe Aplastic Anaemia: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Severe Aplastic Anaemia: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Severe aplastic anaemia is a rare and life-threatening blood disorder characterized by a significant decrease in the number of blood cells produced in the bone marrow. This condition leads to a weakened immune system, an increased risk of bleeding, and a higher susceptibility to infections.

Causes of Severe Aplastic Anaemia
Severe aplastic anaemia occurs when the bone marrow fails to produce an adequate number of blood cells, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The primary causes of this condition can be categorized as follows:

  • Idiopathic Aplastic Anaemia: In most cases, the exact cause of severe aplastic anaemia is unknown, and it is referred to as idiopathic. It is believed to result from an autoimmune reaction in which the immune system attacks and damages the bone marrow.
  • Acquired Aplastic Anaemia: Exposure to certain environmental factors, toxins, medications (e.g., some antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs), or viral infections (e.g., hepatitis) can lead to acquired aplastic anaemia.
  • Inherited Aplastic Anaemia: In rare cases, severe aplastic anaemia can be inherited due to genetic mutations that affect blood cell production.

Symptoms of Severe Aplastic Anaemia
The symptoms of severe aplastic anaemia result from a shortage of blood cells and may include:

  • Fatigue: Persistent tiredness and weakness.
  • Pale Skin: Anaemia-related paleness.
  • Shortness of Breath: Difficulty in breathing, especially during physical activities.
  • Easy Bruising: Increased susceptibility to bruising and bleeding.
  • Frequent Infections: Weakened immune system leading to recurring infections.
  • Nosebleeds and Gum Bleeding: Spontaneous nosebleeds and bleeding gums.
  • Petechiae: Tiny red or purple spots on the skin caused by minor bleeding under the skin.
  • Enlarged Spleen: An enlarged spleen (splenomegaly) may occur due to the breakdown of blood cells.

Diagnosis
Diagnosing severe aplastic anaemia involves several tests and evaluations to confirm the condition and assess its severity. Diagnostic methods include:

  • Blood Tests: A complete blood count (CBC) is performed to evaluate the number of blood cells in the bloodstream. Individuals with severe aplastic anaemia typically have very low counts of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
  • Bone Marrow Biopsy: A sample of bone marrow is extracted and examined to assess cell production and determine if the bone marrow is failing.
  • Cytogenetic Analysis: This test evaluates the genetic makeup of the bone marrow cells to rule out genetic mutations.
  • Immunosuppressive Drug Test: If no underlying cause is identified, a test with immunosuppressive drugs may be conducted to confirm the presence of autoimmune aplastic anaemia.

Treatment Options
The treatment of severe aplastic anaemia aims to increase blood cell production, improve symptoms, and prevent complications. Common treatment options include:

  • Blood Transfusions: Red blood cell and platelet transfusions may be administered to alleviate anaemia-related symptoms and prevent bleeding.
  • Immunosuppressive Therapy: Immunosuppressive drugs, such as anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) and cyclosporine, are often used to suppress the immune system's response and reduce bone marrow damage.
  • Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Transplantation: In some cases, a bone marrow or stem cell transplant (from a compatible donor) may be considered as a curative treatment option.
  • Supportive Care: Medications, such as antibiotics and antifungals, are prescribed to manage infections. Additionally, growth factors may be used to stimulate blood cell production.
  • Experimental Therapies: Clinical trials and experimental therapies are available for individuals who do not respond to conventional treatments.

Complications
Severe aplastic anaemia can lead to several complications, including:

  • Infections: Weakened immune system increases the risk of severe and recurrent infections.
  • Bleeding: Low platelet counts can result in prolonged bleeding from minor injuries or spontaneous bleeding.
  • Anaemia: Severe anaemia can lead to fatigue, shortness of breath, and a reduced ability to carry out normal activities.
  • Secondary Blood Disorders: Long-term aplastic anaemia may increase the risk of developing myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) or leukemia.

Prognosis
The prognosis for severe aplastic anaemia varies depending on several factors, including the underlying cause, age, overall health, and response to treatment. With prompt and appropriate treatment, many individuals can achieve remission or improved blood cell counts. However, the condition can be life-threatening if left untreated or if the bone marrow does not respond to therapy. Ongoing medical monitoring and follow-up care are essential for managing the disease effectively.

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