Aplastic anemia is both a rare and serious condition that occurs when the body stops producing enough blood cells. Due to the scarcity of both red and white blood cells and platelets, an affected person may experience extreme fatigue, be more prone to infections, and even bleed uncontrollably. While pregnancy, the constant exposure to toxic chemicals, undergoing radiation or chemotherapy treatments, and the use of certain medications and antibiotics serve as risk factors for some, oftentimes the cause of aplastic anemia is unable to be identified. While non-progressive, mild versions of aplastic anemia may not require any treatment, this isn't true for more severe cases.
While blood transfusions are a primary option used to treat aplastic anemia, it is important to realize they do not serve as a cure, and will only relieve symptoms. During this procedure, patients receive parts of blood from a compatible donor. Transfusions for this condition raise the count of red blood cells and platelets. While patients can get as many transfusions as the body can handle, over time, their body may develop antibodies to transfused blood cells. This, in turn, can lessen the effects of the transfusion.
Those who plan to frequent this treatment option may consider taking an immunosuppressant to lower their body's immune response and avoid this complication. The body may also accumulate access levels of iron via red blood cell transfusions. This overload can cause damage to vital organs if not handled early enough, though there are medications designed to rid the body of the excess iron.
Stem Cell Transplant
A stem cell transplant (SCT) is commonly referred to as a bone marrow transplant (BMT) or a hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT). This procedure entails getting rid of the unhealthy stem cells within the body and replacing them with healthy ones. The new stem cells are passed down from a matching donor. While this option may serve as a cure for some, not everyone can undergo a stem cell transplant. This is often the case because it can be challenging to find a compatible donor.
For those who are lucky enough to find a suitable donor, they will need to prepare for a lengthy hospital stay. During the recovery period, the patient is heavily monitored and given medication to be sure their body accepts the transplant. If their body rejects the transplant, serious health detriments may arise, and results can even be fatal. Because of the potential risks involved, many individuals may not be advised to receive a stem cell transplant.
Bone Marrow Stimulants
In its healthy state, bone marrow will pick up on the chemical cues within the body that reveal there is a need for a higher level of blood cell production. If the bone marrow fails to respond to these signals, bone marrow stimulation may help. Bone marrow stimulants are designed to bring bone marrow back to life. These types of medications aim to boost the production of the blood cells the body lacks and are often used in conjunction with growth factors or commonly referred to as 'colony-stimulating factors.' Growth factors are medications injected beneath the skin or directly into the vein to enhance the stimulation process and boost the production levels.
Immunosuppressants are a vital step transplant patients must partake in. The immune system is the body's defense system that works to attack any invaders or foreign objects within the body. During a transplant, the immune system will likely recognize the cells of the donor as a potential threat towards the patient, and it may try to destroy the process. To ensure the foreign cells are accepted, the transplant patient may be given immunosuppressants to reduce the strength of the body's immune system.
Though these types of medications are a key part of the process, they come with a few dangerous side effects. While the patients may experience some nausea and vomiting, diarrhea or abnormal stools, fevers, headaches, or chills, they are also at an increased risk for infection, because the immune system is weakened. You may be prescribed immunosuppressants until the foreign cells have matured or for an indefinite period.
If your case of aplastic anemia leaves you in a deficit of white blood cells, your immune system is in a compromised state. White blood cells, or leukocytes, work to protect the body from infectious diseases or harmful invaders. When there aren't enough of them within the body, you are far more prone to different illnesses and infections, and it is much harder to get rid of them. As a preventative measure, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to keep the body safe from further harm. Though these types of medications are used as a treatment for aplastic anemia, they will not aid the body in producing more cells, but they will fight infections head-on. However, they must be taken at the first sign of illness (such as a fever) for them to be effective.