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A Bone Marrow Disease With a Brighter Prognosis
Date:3/23/2008

al inside bones -- produces stem cells that normally develop into the three main types of blood cells -- red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

"Essentially, the bone marrow is a factory of blood," Maciejewski said.

In patients with aplastic anemia, the stem cells have been damaged, slowing or stopping the production of all blood cells.

The cause of the damage to stem cells remains unknown in more than half of people with aplastic anemia. Some research has suggested that stem cell damage occurs when the immune system attacks the body's own cells by mistake, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Aplastic anemia has also been linked to exposure to toxins such as pesticides, arsenic and benzene. Some infectious diseases also can cause the disorder, including hepatitis, Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, parvovirus B19, and HIV, as well as autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, some genetic disorders have been linked to it.

Symptoms vary depending on the type of blood cells in shortage:

  • Too few red blood cells can mean not enough oxygen is carried to the body, according to the NIH. People who have a low red blood cell count often feel tired. Because the heart has to work harder to pump blood to get enough oxygen to the body's organs and tissues, heart disease can develop over time.
  • Too few white blood cells weaken the body's defense against infection. The patient may become ill more often, and the illness can be severe.
  • Too few platelets hamper the blood's ability to clot. Patients with a low platelet count may bruise or bleed easily, and their bleeding may be hard to stop.

Once aplastic anemia is detected, swift treatment is essential, Paquette said. "Because it's a rare disease, it's important to be treated at a specialized center," he said. "The most important thing is to be seen by someone with a lot of e
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