Aplastic Anemia Basics – What Everyone Needs to Know

In Himanshu Sharma’s article posted on Onlymyhealth.com back in 2014, it appears that the basics are there. But I’d like to offer my own take since I happen to have a good friend who developed aplastic anemia after she was aggressively treated with methotrexate for rheumatoid arthritis.

Definition: Patients who have aplastic anemia, which is an autoimmune disease or condition, are no longer able to produce red and white blood cells. If left untreated, and in acute cases, can be fatal. Onset can occur at any age but typically affects adult populations.

Symptoms: Mild to moderate to severe fatigue can occur. Patients may feel zapped of energy which may or may not be relieved by rest. Depending on the severity of the condition, people may appear to be extremely pale and ghostly throughout the body and is particularly noticeable in the face. Weakness can also occur as well as irritability and mental confusion. Patients may suffer from frequent or recurring infections and or develop secondary autoimmune conditions. Without sufficient blood cells, the patient may bleed out if injured because the body has lost blood clotting ability. Bruising and lesions (particularly in the mouth) are also common.

Cause of the disease: While causes may vary, it’s typically found in adults who have been exposed to toxic chemicals, medicines and treatments for certain diseases which could include first-generation drugs such as methotrexate, a treatment for cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. And while atypical, it’s also possible for infections or even pregnancy to somehow unlock the genetic “key” to initiate onset of the disease.

Treatment: Until recently, few effective treatments were available for acute aplastic anemia with the exception of blood transfusions. In 2014, the FDA approved Eltrombopag (Promacta) for the treatment of severe aplastic anemia. Although not everyone is a candidate, bone marrow transplants have met with some success along with stem cell transplants.

Lifestyle management: It’s imperative for people to talk with their doctors before starting or stopping any type of exercise or daily routines because it may impact their health. This is particularly true if people want to participate in high-impact sports or activities as fatal hemorrhaging can occur as a result of injury. It is however possible to follow a relatively normal lifestyle as long as patients follow their doctors’ advice. However, keep in mind that it can be very challenging for patients, their loved ones and caregivers to adapt to living with a serious chronic illness that requires strict adherence. Needing bloodwork and having to be monitored frequently by a variety of doctors is difficult to endure at times, which is why building a support system and creating healthy outlets, hobbies, and interests is important.


Alisha Stone

Alisha Stone

Alisha Stone has a BA in psychology and is dedicated to improving the lives of others living with chronic illnesses.

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