What is Aplastic Anemia?

Aplastic anemia occurs when the bone marrow in the center of the bone does not make enough healthy blood cells for the body to function normally. Patients may have low blood counts involving all three types of blood cells — red cells, white cells, and platelets. When the bone marrow of these patients is examined under the microscope, it is usually found to have reduced numbers of the 'stem cells' that are the precursors of all blood cells.

Types

There are two broad types of aplastic anemia in children. Aplastic anemia may be idiopathic, meaning it occurs sporadically for no known reason. Alternatively, aplastic anemia may be secondary, resulting from a previous illness or disorder.

The majority of childhood cases of aplastic anemia are idiopathic and occur sporadically for no known reason.

Secondary or acquired cases, however, may result from infection, medication or toxin exposure or as a result of an autoimmune disease such as lupus. Children may also inherit a disorder that predisposes them to developing aplastic anemia.

What are the symptoms of aplastic anemia?

The following are the most common symptoms of aplastic anemia. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath
  • bruising
  • lack of energy or tiring easily (fatigue)
  • abnormally pale skin
  • blood in stool
  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • fevers
  • enlarged liver or spleen
  • frequent infections

The symptoms of aplastic anemia may resemble other blood disorders or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is aplastic anemia diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination of your child, diagnostic procedures for aplastic anemia may include:

  • blood tests
  • bone marrow aspiration and/or biopsy - a procedure that involves taking a small amount of bone marrow fluid (aspiration) and/or solid bone marrow tissue (called a core biopsy), usually from the hip bones, to be examined for the number, size, and maturity of blood cells and/or abnormal cells.

How is aplastic anemia treated?

Specific treatment for aplastic anemia will be determined by your physician. Aplastic anemia is a serious illness and treatment usually depends on the underlying cause. Treatment may include:

  • blood transfusion (both red blood cells and platelets)
  • preventative antibiotic therapy
  • medications (to stimulate the bone marrow to produce cells)
  • immunosuppressive therapy
  • hormones
  • bone marrow transplant

About treatment for aplastic anemia at Children’s

Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders program achieves outcomes that rank among the top national programs and cares for more than two-thirds of Minnesota children and adolescents with blood disorders. In the program, families coping with anemia have access to the newest and most promising treatments and receive care spearheaded and coordinated by a board-certified hematologist/oncologist.

Contact us

If you are a family member looking for a Children’s hematologist or oncologist or wanting to schedule an appointment, call the outpatient clinic at Children’s – Minneapolis at 612-813-5940

If you are a health professional looking for consultation or referral information, please call Children's Physician Access at 1-866-755-2121 (toll-free).