January 31st update Save a life today
Aplastic anaemia is a life-threatening disease in which our bone marrow stops producing new blood cells at the same rate, resulting in deficits of all blood cell types. White blood cells fight germs and platelets help blood to clot. Without these, the body is at risk for infection and uncontrolled bleeding. Whilst not cancer, its effects on patients and families are equally devastating. The treatment is harrowing and resembles that of cancer patients.
What causes aplastic anaemia?
In the majority of cases aplastic anaemia is an acquired disorder that develops at some stage in the person’s life; it is usually not inherited nor is it present at birth. Several potential triggers for the development of aplastic anaemia have been identified, inclduing:
- exposure to certain drugs – these include certain drugs to treat arthritis or an over active thyroid, some drugs used in psychiatry and a few antibiotics. The risk of aplastic anaemia resulting from taking these drugs is very small.
- exposure to certain chemicals – there is a long list of chemicals which have been suspected of causing aplastic anaemia. The link between these chemicals and the incidence of aplastic anaemia is often very weak.
- viruses – some patients diagnosed with aplastic anaemia have suffered a virus in the weeks prior to their diagnosis.
- radiation exposure.
In many cases, the cause of aplastic anaemia remains unknown and with children it is often impossible to prove what caused the aplastic anaemia.
What are the symptoms of aplastic anaemia?
In aplastic anaemia sufferers, their quantity of each blood cell type is much lower than normal. Fewer white blood cells will bring on unexplained infections. Fewer platelets bring about unexpected bleeding and fewer red blood cells cause fatigue. Other symptoms include:
- Easy, unexplained bruising
- Weakness, fatigue and tiredness
- Nosebleeds and bleeding gums
- Pale skin
- Prolonged bleeding from cuts
- Rapid heart rate
- Skin rashes
How is aplastic anaemia treated?
Treatment of aplastic anaemia can be lengthy and costly and because the disease is rare sufferers may not receive a high quality coordinated treatment or care. It may take a long time to get a diagnosis, all the while the patient is waiting not knowing what is going wrong with their body.
Treatment depends on several factors including the cause of the disease (if this can be identified), its severity, the person’s age and the general health of the patient. A bone marrow transplant from a healthy, matching donor will give Henry and other sufferers the best chance of a permanent recovery; however, Henry’s siblings ARE NOT a match and there has been no match found on the bone marrow registers, therefore Henry must undertake regular ‘supportive therapies’ by way of transfusions. For aplastic anaemia sufferers, the most common transfusions are red blood cell transfusion and platelet transfusion. See here for details of Henry’s current treatments.
How many peole have aplastic anaemia?
- There are thought to be between 1 and 4 sufferers in every million people.
- Just 125 people are diagnosed in the UK each year.
- Those aged 10-20, and the elderly, are most affected.
Find out more about Aplastic Anaemia and the work of the AAT here.
To read more about fundraising efforts on Henry’s behalf, or of the aplastic anaemia trust and Anthony Nolan Trust, please visit our here.