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Blood Disease: Aplastic Anemia (And how can we help?)

Feb 28, 2023 by Gift of Life News

What is Aplastic Anemia?

Aplastic anemia is a condition that occurs when the body does not produce enough new blood cells. The condition leaves you fatigued and more prone to infections and uncontrolled bleeding. Aplastic anemia is not an inherited disorder. It can develop at any age, and it can occur suddenly or it can develop slowly. 

How does Aplastic Anemia impact one’s health? 

Aplastic anemia is caused by damaged stem cells in the bone marrow. As a result, the bone marrow is either empty (aplastic) or contains few blood cells (hypoplastic). This can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, rapid or irregular heart rate, pale skin, frequent or prolonged infection, easy bruising, nosebleeds and bleeding gums, prolonged bleeding from cuts, skin rash, dizziness, headache, and fever. 

What causes Aplastic Anemia?

The most common cause of aplastic anemia is the immune system attacking stem cells in the bone marrow. Other factors that can injure bone marrow and affect blood cell production include radiation and chemotherapy treatments, exposure to toxic chemicals, use of certain medications, preexisting autoimmune disorders, viral infection that affect bone marrow, and in rare cases, immune system changes during pregnancy.  

There are also unknown causes of aplastic anemia. In many cases, doctors are not able to identify the specific cause of aplastic anemia. 

How can a transplant cure Aplastic Anemia? 

Above: Gift of Life donor Aaron Allen saved Seth Akins's life with a bone marrow transplant, after the young boy was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. The two met one year after the transplant at an LA Galaxy soccer game (left). Today Seth is a thriving and healthy teen (right). 

While there are treatments for the symptoms of aplastic anemia and for the complications the condition causes, a blood stem cell/bone marrow transplant is the only known cure for aplastic anemia. Prior to the transplant, the patient’s non-functioning marrow is cleared by chemotherapy and replaced with healthy cells donated by a matching family member or unrelated donor. These healthy stem cells then produce new blood cells. 

For the transplant to work, the donor and the patient must have matching immune system factors, called Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA). People get their HLA types from their parents, one half from each parent. Only about 30% of patients can find a match with another family member; the other 70% of patients must search the registry for an unrelated donor. People with the same ethnicity have the best chance of being HLA matches, due to the way these factors are inherited. Looking at where your ancestors were living generations ago can give doctors a good idea of who might be the perfect match. 


What can you do to help? 

Because the only known cure for aplastic anemia is or stem cell or bone marrow transplant, the best way to help is joining the registry so more donors are available. Anyone 18 to 35 years old and in general good health can join the registry by completing a cheek swab kit at an in-person drive or by ordering a kit to have sent to your home. 

You may also organize and host your own donor recruitment drives. Gift of Life has over 30 years of experience organizing events, and we stand ready to help you coordinate yours. 

You can also help out by spreading the word. Following Gift of Life on social media and sharing this article and others like it will help get the word out about what our organization does and why our mission is so important. This can help others join the registry!