The blood that circulates throughout the body performs a number of critical functions. It delivers oxygen, removes carbon dioxide, and carries life-sustaining nutrients. By acting as the vehicle for long-distance messengers such as hormones, blood helps the various parts of the body communicate with each other. This is carried out by blood cells working in partnership with the liquid part of the blood (plasma).
Most of the cells that make up your blood are red blood cells (RBCs; erythrocytes). Also present are white blood cells (WBCs; leukocytes), which defend the body against foreign matter, including infections, viruses, and fungi.
Anemia is a condition where the number of healthy RBCs in the blood is lower than normal. RBCs transport oxygen throughout the body, so a shortage of these cells can lead to serious health problems.
In aplastic anemia, the bone marrow drastically cuts down on its production of all types of blood cells (red, white, and platelets). Aplastic actually means "a failure in development." Aplastic anemia, acute or chronic, is a rare and serious condition that can occur spontaneously or be triggered by exposure to certain medications or toxins.
Dr. Paul Ehrlich, a famous German pathologist, first identified the condition in 1888 after studying the case of a pregnant woman who died of bone marrow failure. In 1904, the disorder was termed aplastic anemia.
Aplastic anemia isn't restricted to any age or gender. There are 2 to 12 new cases for every million people each year. The Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation has a voluntary patient registry to track statistics on people with these conditions.
A very rare form of aplastic anemia, Fanconi anemia (a type of hereditary aplastic anemia with bone abnormalities and brown pigmentation in the skin), occurs in some children with abnormal chromosomes.
Most of the causes of aplastic anemia are unknown. Certain cancer treatments, such as high doses of chemotherapy or radiation treatment, can cause aplastic anemia. Other possible causes include chemicals (such as benzene-based compounds), various over-the-counter and prescription medications, viruses, immune diseases, pregnancy, street drugs, and environmental toxins (such as insecticides and pesticides). Fanconi anemia is an inherited condition.