anaemia, aplastic

Form of anaemia that results when the bone marrow produces too few blood cells, as a result of exposure to radioactivity or in rare cases through medication. The condition is often found in cancer patients because on the one hand secondary cancers may develop in the bone marrow and force out the blood-forming cells, and on the other hand cytostatics (medication to check the growth of tumours) also inhibit the growth of blood cells. Usually the cause of aplastic anaemia is unknown. The scarcity of red blood cells in this condition produces typical symptoms of anaemia: fatigue, paleness and palpitations. The lack of white blood cells makes the body highly susceptible to infection, and because of the lack of platelets (to form clots to heal wounds) spontaneous haemorrhage gradually sets in, particularly in the skin, gums and nose. Aplastic anaemia can be treated by blood transfusion, with the added risk that frequent transfusions could cause infection with hepatitis or AIDS. Occasionally, if there is a suitable donor (a relation for example) a bone marrow transplant may be undertaken, enabling the patient to produce blood cells for himself.

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