Aplastic Anemia Causes

In aplastic anemia, the bone marrow is described in medical terms as aplastic or hypoplastic - meaning that it's empty, or containing very few blood cells. Normally, your bone marrow supplies the right numbers of blood cells to keep you healthy. Aplastic anemia develops when damage occurs to your bone marrow, slowing or shutting down the production of new blood cells - a serious problem. Factors that can temporarily or permanently injure bone marrow include:

  • High-dose radiation and chemotherapy treatments. These cancer-fighting therapies kill cancer cells. But they also damage healthy cells, including stem cells in bone marrow. Secondary aplastic anemia can be a temporary side effect of these treatments.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals. Secondary aplastic anemia has been linked to exposure to toxic chemicals, such as some used in hair dyes, herbicides and insecticides. Exposure to benzene - an ingredient in gasoline, mothballs, paint and varnish removers, dry-cleaning solutions, and some glues and household cleaners - also has been linked to secondary aplastic anemia. This type of anemia sometimes gets better on its own if you avoid repeated exposure to the chemicals that caused the initial illness.
  • Use of certain drugs. Some medications to treat rheumatoid arthritis, some antibiotics, as well as some illegal drugs can cause secondary aplastic anemia.
  • Autoimmune disorders. An autoimmune disorder such as lupus, in which the body's immune system begins attacking healthy cells, may involve stem cells in the bone marrow.
  • A viral infection. In some people, aplastic anemia may be related to a viral infection that affects the bone marrow.
  • Pregnancy. Aplastic anemia may occur in pregnancy, but this is rare. It may be related to an autoimmune problem - the body's immune system begins attacking the bone marrow during pregnancy.
  • Bone marrow diseases. Diseases that affect bone marrow can eventually lead to an added diagnosis of aplastic anemia.
  • Unknown factors. In many cases, the cause of aplastic anemia can't be identified. This is called idiopathic aplastic anemia.
  • Aplastic anemia can develop at any age, but it's more commonly diagnosed in children and young adults.

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