Sometimes we are so engrossed in our works that we don’t pay much attention to the minor ailments we may get. We neglect those ailments thinking that they could not cause any serious damage to our health. Such negligence and subsequent delay in getting proper diagnosed could have a serious consequence at later stage of life. My friend, Miss S, too learned it the hard way. She worked in an organization dealing with rural development implementation program. During peak agricultural season she often had to work at odd hours to meet the community people. Sometimes she would reach her working area early in the morning, sometimes she would still be working till late evening and so on. This disrupted her routine things like taking meals and rest at proper time. Three years back, when she noticed that she got tired easily after any work, she assumed that it must be because of her negligence in taking meals and rest. Thereafter she did try to take her meals properly but her condition persisted. So, she finally had to consult a doctor. She was told to undergo many tests and was finally diagnosed with aplastic anemia.
What is aplastic anemia?
Aplastic anemia is a rare kind of diseases in which the patients suffer from complications due to low number of blood cells. Such conditions happen when the bone marrows are damaged. Bone marrow, which is present inside the bone, produces stem cells. Stem cells are responsible for producing different types of cells including the blood cells. So, if it is damaged, it eventually leads to reduction in all types of blood cells- white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
How does aplastic anemia affect a person?
Due to low blood cells count, the functions of the blood cells are disrupted. As the red blood cells are responsible for providing oxygen to the cells in the different parts of the body and removing the waste products like carbon dioxide, when the body has low red blood cells, the different parts of the body will receive less oxygen. As a result, the person is unable to do any strenuous activity for long and gets tired easily. He or she suffers from shortness of breath. In order to supply more blood, the heartbeat rate also increases rapidly. Often the person has a pale appearance and cold hands and feet.
White blood cells are responsible for defense mechanisms against infections. So, when there are very low white blood cells in the blood, the body loses its capacity to resist infections. Consequently, even a mild infections last longer. For instance, the patients may take longer time to recover from simple ailments like fever or flu.
Platelets are responsible for clotting of blood. Reduction in the platelet would slow down the clotting process. Often, the patients of aplastic anemia tend to bruise and bleed easily. They suffer from frequent nose bleeding, bleeding gums etc
In the last few decades, there has been much progress in the treatments for aplastic anemic conditions due to the advancement in the field of biotechnology. However, it is still a dreaded disease as after treatment relapse of the disease take place in most cases. Relapse may happen even after many years. Generally, aplastic anemia is treated by one of the following method:
- Blood transfusion
- Bone Marrow transplant
Usually, blood transfusion is given for mild and moderate cases of aplastic anemia. Old people particularly who are above the age of 60 years or so are also treated by this method. In case of moderate condition, the patient may need to have blood transfusion every ten days or so. However,there is risk in having freuent blood transfusion as complication may arise due to accumulations of iron. Iron is present in the haemoglobin pigment of the blood. With each blood transfusion, iron accumulation increases. Over accumulation of iron damages internal organs like liver.
Bone marrow transplants:
Also known as stem cell transplant, it involves removing the damaged bone marrow by radiation and transplanting healthy stem cells from a donor. Donors are usually selected from among the siblings of the patients to reduce the rejection by the stem cells. Transplant can be done only in young children and healthy patients. Though quite expensive, it is more effective method. Sometimes, complications arise when the newly received stem cells starts attacking the host cells.
Since in aplastic anemia condition, the immune cell of the patients destroys its own stem cell, medicines that suppresses the activities of the immune system is also used to treat the conditions. However it case of severe aplastic anemia condition, medications can be used only as a temporary measures to relieve the symptom before being treated with stem cell transplantation. A side effect of using too much immunosuppressant medicines is that it may lead to other disorders like myelodysplasia ( a condition in which the bone marrow produce underdeveloped blood cells)
The patient needs lots of care and support from others:
As there is the danger of relapsing after the treatment, the patient needs lots of care and support during and after the treatment. Most of the medicines produce a depressing effect on the patients. He or she may also feel depressed with the various change that take place. During treatment, often, it leads to unwanted facial hair growth, increase in weight, feeing of weakness etc. A patient generally feels depress and totally avoids social life. If the patient is someone close to you, you need to help him or her come out of depression. The patient also needs to take certain precautions to avoid relapse of the disease. He or she should avoid being in places which have high risk of infections such as crowded places. He or she should also limit doing any activity which could cause injury to the body.
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