Your body is a complex machine, and sometimes things can go wrong that are not easy to spot from the outside. There are some diseases, illnesses, and other conditions which require lab tests to confirm what exactly is going on inside of the body. An example of a condition that must be diagnosed through a blood test is aplastic anemia.
What is Aplastic Anemia?
Aplastic anemia is a rare and serious disease caused by damage to bone marrow. Bone marrow is responsible for the production of new blood cells.
Blood cells die naturally after 120 days for red/white cells and every 6 days for platelets. In a healthy person, the death of a blood cell is not a concern because the bone marrow simply creates new cells to replace the dead ones.
However, when damage is done to the bone marrow, the damage prevents the bone marrow from making new blood cells, leading to a reduced blood cell count. This inability to produce new blood cells causes a wide range of symptoms and complications.
Risk Factors of Aplastic Anemia
As stated above, aplastic anemia is caused by damaged bone marrow that is unable to produce enough new blood cells. Factors that increase the risk of damaging bone marrow and developing aplastic anemia include:
- Radiation exposure, including chemotherapy treatments
- Autoimmune diseases
- Exposure to toxic chemicals or consumption of some medications
- Family history of the disease
Aplastic anemia can develop at any age, and it occurs equally in men and women. The disease is 2-3 times more prevalent in Asian countries.
Causes of Aplastic Anemia
Possible causes of aplastic anemia include:
- Exposure to toxins, such as benzene, arsenic, and pesticides.
- Exposure to chemotherapy and radiation (used to treat cancer).
- A side-effect of certain medicines, such as chloramphenicol (an antibiotic not common in the U.S.).
- Suffering from other infectious diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.
- Suffering from other autoimmune disorders, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Pregnancy (usually temporary in nature)
- Cancer from another part of the body has spread to the bone marrow
The cause of someone's aplastic anemia is not always known, and scientists are not sure of all the reasons the disease occurs.
Symptoms of Aplastic Anemia
The symptoms of aplastic anemia can appear at any age, and they can develop rapidly or slowly over time. Most symptoms are all associated with the loss of blood cells, and the exact symptoms depend on which blood cell types are affected. Common symptoms include:
- Loss of red blood cells: fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, rapid, irregular heartbeat
- Loss of white blood cells: reoccurring infections, lingering flu-like symptoms
- Loss of platelets: Excessive bruising and bleeding, bleeding gums, blood in stool
Other symptoms not directly associated with low blood counts include nausea and skin rashes.
Diagnosis of Aplastic Anemia
Diagnosing aplastic anemia can be difficult given the varying speeds that symptoms may appear and the fact these symptoms overlap with so many other disorders.
The most common method of confirming an aplastic anemia diagnosis is to conduct blood tests. Depending on blood test results, a doctor may also take a bone marrow sample for further testing.
Lab Tests for Aplastic Anemia
The most common blood lab tests for aplastic anemia are:
This is usually one of the first blood tests used to check for aplastic anemia. The test measures 33 different biomarkers to provide a very thorough assessment of what is in the blood. This test provides data such as:
- the amount of hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen to your body
- the number of red blood cells and platelets
- the number and types of white blood cells
A blood smear examines the size, shape, and number of blood cells in the blood.
Treatment for Aplastic Anemia
There is no cure for aplastic anemia. There are several treatment options to relieve symptoms, depending on the exact cause, symptoms, and severity of the illness.
Minor cases of aplastic anemia are often focused on increasing blood counts and treating anemia. Vitamins such as B12, folic acid, and iron can be increased through dietary changes, dietary supplements. Doctors can also prescribe medicines such as:
- A man-made version of the hormone erythropoietin, which can stimulate the production of more red blood cells.
- Immunosuppressants to stop the immune system from attacking its own red blood cells.
In severe cases, more aggressive treatment options are considered, including:
- Blood and plasma transfusions to provide more blood cells
- High doses of Cyclophosphamide (a chemotherapy drug)
- Immunosuppressive drug therapy to suppress an overactive immune system
In severe cases, and where drug therapy has failed to provide relief, a patient may have to undergo a bone marrow transplant.
Order Your Aplastic Anemia Tests with Ulta Lab Tests
If you are suffering symptoms of aplastic anemia, a lab test can help confirm or rule out an aplastic anemia diagnosis.
Ulta Lab Tests offers tests that are highly accurate and reliable, so you can make informed decisions about your health.
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