Idiopathic aplastic anemia is a disease in which the body’s bone marrow doesn’t make enough blood cells. By definition, the cause of idiopathic aplastic anemia is unknown, as the term idiopathic itself means of unknown cause, though some experts believe a malfunction of the immune system may play a role. Symptoms of this disease are often directly related to low levels of blood cells and can vary depending on how low the levels are. Similarly, treatment can vary depending on the severity of the disease.
Normally bone marrow, the spongy tissue found inside many of the body’s bones, continually produces special cells called stem cells, which go on to produce to the body’s three main types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. In idiopathic aplastic anemia, something damages the bone marrow and slows or halts the production of stem cells and, consequently, all types of blood cells. There are certain forms of aplastic anemia that have known causes of this damage, such as the use of certain medications or exposure to toxic chemicals. The root cause of idiopathic aplastic anemia, however, is unknown, though some experts theorize that it may be due to an overreaction of the immune system wherein the body’s own immune cells attack the bone marrow.
Although idiopathic aplastic anemia affects all blood cells, the levels of different cells that are affected may vary over time, as certain types of blood cells live for longer periods than others. This, along with the degree to which the bone marrow slows production of stem cells, can affect the symptoms that a person with idiopathic aplastic anemia may experience. For example, when levels of white blood cells get too low, the person may become prone to infections. Low red blood cell levels can cause extreme tiredness, paleness, and trouble breathing when working harder than usual, while decreased platelet levels can make a person prone to bleeding and lead to symptoms such as bleeding gums, nosebleeds, and frequent bruising. A person with idiopathic aplastic anemia may experience some or all of these symptoms depending on how severe the overall disease is.
Idiopathic aplastic anemia treatments can also vary depending on the severity of the disease. In people with mildly decreased blood cell levels, careful monitoring and treatment of symptoms, such as antibiotics for an infection, may be the only recommended treatment. For people with moderately low blood cell levels, blood transfusions to help replace red blood cells and platelets may be recommended. If the disease becomes very severe and a person’s life is in danger, a bone marrow transplant or treatment with medications that suppress the immune system, both of which may help the body start producing its own blood cells again, may be recommended.