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What Are the Causes of Pancytopenia?

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  • Written By: Glyn Sinclair
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 06 September 2016
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Pancytopenia is a condition where the blood cells are present in abnormally low levels. These include red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Some of the causes of pancytopenia include diseases of the bone marrow, cancer, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and chemotherapy. This can cause the bone marrow to be suppressed and create the circumstance for pancytopenia to occur. Viral infections can also be the cause of pancytopenia.

Anemia and leukemia both cause lowered blood cell counts — red and white cells respectively — and they are sometimes mistaken for pancytopenia; however, this condition is a disorder concerning all of the blood cells and platelets. It is also referred to as "Bone Marrow Failure Syndrome." This is where the bone marrow is unable to produce blood cells in sufficient numbers. A physician will typically take a bone marrow biopsy, among other tests, to ascertain the causes of pancytopenia.

When diagnosing the condition, a physician will look for a number of symptoms. These could include anemia, palpitations, fatigue and petechiae, which is when bleeding beneath the skin due to broken blood vessels creates small red marks on the skin. Pancytopenia may progress at a slow rate, or swiftly, and tends to have varying rates of progression according to the individual and severity of the condition. Other symptoms include breathing difficulties and easy bruising. Pancytopenia is generally not localized, but tends to affect the whole body and can also lower oxygen supply.

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A physician will develop a treatment strategy once the causes of pancytopenia have been established. There may be no treatment required if the condition is relatively mild. Sometimes the causes of pancytopenia may be linked to environmental factors and may resolve on their own when the person is removed from that environment. Blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants may be necessary if the condition is more advanced. If the causes of pancytopenia are not established and the condition remains untreated, it can cause infection and bleeding and could potentially be life-threatening.

The treatments for this condition can create a number of complications. These can include complications from blood transfusions, negative reactions to transplanted bone marrow such as when the body rejects the graft, reactions to medications, and sepsis. Sepsis is a bacterial infection of the blood and can be life-threatening. Young people tend to fare better when undergoing treatment for pancytopenia whereas the elderly may have more difficulty overcoming complications from the treatment.

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anon345272
Post 4

My sister died from sepsis driven pancytopenia brought on by the use of antipsychotic medication. By the time it was noticed, sadly, it was too late to do anything to help her.

burcinc
Post 3

There is an illness called myelodysplastic syndrome that can mimic pancytopenia and the cause is a vitamin B12 deficiency. His doctors thought that my uncle had pancytopenia but when they saw that he was recovering with vitamin B12 therapy, they realized that it was actually myelodysplastic syndrome.

bear78
Post 2

@literally45-- Bone marrow diseases are very complex. There are many different types and each person's disease develops very differently and at a different pace. I think there many possible causes of pancytopenia, but most of it is not well understood yet.

Have you been categorized as having moderate pancytopenia or severe? How fast is your blood cell count dropping?

Mild pancytopenia might not be diagnosed or treated until it has developed into moderate. Most doctors prefer to wait and see how blood cell counts change over the course of several years when pancytopenia is in the mild stage.

That's what happened to me. I did not receive treatment until four years after my problems started because my

blood cell count was not low enough. My first treatment was immunosuppressive drugs which didn't work and then we proceeded to red blood cell growth factor therapy. This seemed to be working at first, but my numbers have been going down again. My numbers are low, they're down to 50K. A transplant is probably going to be my next treatment and I hope that it will work out.
literally45
Post 1

When it's not caused by disease or chemotherapy, pancytopenia is basically hereditary, right?

I was diagnosed with pancytopenia recently. My doctor is in the processes of determining my treatment plan and hasn't discussed anything with me yet. I'm very scared and anxious. Will I be getting a bone marrow transplant?

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