What is aplastic anemia?
Aplastic anemia is a blood disorder that affects three out of every million people in the United States every year. It occurs when the bone marrow produces too few of all types of blood cells: red cells, white cells and platelets.
- A low number of red blood cells reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.
- A reduced number of white blood cells makes the child more susceptible to infection.
- A low number of platelets reduces the blood’s ability to clot.
What causes aplastic anemia?
Aplastic anemia in children has multiple causes. Usually it is “idiopathic,” occurring with no known reason. It can also be the result of a previous illness or existing problem, or be caused by an inherited genetic disorder.
About 80 to 85 percent of cases of aplastic anemia in children are acquired, and may include a history of:
- specific infectious diseases, such as hepatitis, Epstein-Barr virus, or Cytomegalovirus
- taking certain medications, including some antibiotics and arthritis drugs
- exposure to certain toxins, such as benzene, pesticides and insecticides
- exposure to radiation or chemotherapy
In about 15 to 20 percent of cases, children inherit a disorder that predisposes them to developing aplastic anemia, such as:
- Fanconi anemia
- Dyskeratosis congenita
- Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome
- Amegakaryocytic thrombocytopenia
What are the symptoms of aplastic anemia?
Each child may experience symptoms differently, but the most common symptoms of aplastic anemia are:
- lack of energy or tiring easily
- pale skin, lips and hands, or paleness under the eyelids
- shortness of breath
- fevers or infections
- bleeding, such as bruising, bleeding gums, nosebleeds or blood in the stool
- irregular heartbeat
- dizziness or headache
The symptoms of aplastic anemia may resemble other blood disorders or medical problems, some of which are very common and easy to treat, while others are more serious. The symptoms listed above are common presentations of the disease, but do not include all possible symptoms.
It is important to be evaluated by a physician to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Always consult your child's physician if you have concerns.