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What Causes Aplastic Anemia?

Damage to the bone marrow's stem cells causes aplastic anemia. When stem cells are damaged, they don't grow into healthy blood cells.

The cause of the damage can be acquired or inherited. "Acquired" means you aren't born with the condition, but you develop it. "Inherited" means your parents passed the gene for the condition to you.

Acquired aplastic anemia is more common, and sometimes it's only temporary. Inherited aplastic anemia is rare.

In many people who have aplastic anemia, the cause is unknown. Some research suggests that stem cell damage may occur because the body's immune system attacks its own cells by mistake.

Acquired Causes

Many diseases, conditions, and factors can cause aplastic anemia, including:

  • Toxins, such as pesticides, arsenic, and benzene.
  • Radiation and chemotherapy (treatments for cancer).
  • Medicines, such as chloramphenicol (an antibiotic rarely used in the United States).
  • Infectious diseases, such as hepatitis, Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus (si-to-MEG-ah-lo-VI-rus), parvovirus B19, and HIV.
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Pregnancy. (Aplastic anemia that occurs during pregnancy often goes away after delivery.)

Sometimes, cancer from another part of the body can spread to the bone and cause aplastic anemia.

Inherited Causes

Certain inherited conditions can damage the stem cells and lead to aplastic anemia. Examples include Fanconi anemia, Shwachman-Diamond syndrome, dyskeratosis (DIS-ker-ah-TO-sis) congenita, and Diamond-Blackfan anemia.

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Clinical Trials for Rare Blood Diseases (Neal Young, M.D.)

Aplastic Anemia Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Aplastic Anemia, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.

 
August 22, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.