Aplastic Anaemia is a rare and life-threatening blood disorder caused by the bone marrow not functioning properly. In people with aplastic anaemia, the bone marrow fails to produce enough of all three types of blood cells – red, white and platelets. 

  • Red blood cells are essential for carrying oxygen around the body
  • White blood cells help us fight infections, bugs and germs
  • Platelets are responsible for stopping us bleeding and bruising 

The word ‘aplastic’ means the body’s inability to create new cells, so that tissue cannot grow or regenerate.

Who can be affected by aplastic anaemia?

Aplastic Anaemia can affect anyone of any age but is most common in the young (10 to 20 years old) and elderly (60 years old +).

How many people are diagnosed?

It is estimated that between 100 and 150 people will be diagnosed across the UK every year. That's around 2 people for every 1,000,000 of population. This deems aplastic anaemia an ultra rare disease. The exact occurrence of the disease is not known and more research is needed to establish a baseline figure.

What causes aplastic anaemia?

Aplastic anaemia can be inherited, but more commonly this is an acquired disease that develops at some stage in an individual’s life.

It is believed that in many cases, acquired aplastic anaemia results from the bone marrow stem cells being damaged by an autoimmune reaction in the body. An autoimmune reaction is where the body’s immune system fights against its own cells because it mistakenly believes them to be damaged or faulty. When this happens, the bone marrow function starts to slow down.

This results in an underproduction of all types of blood cells. Autoimmune reactions can have an underlying cause – about one in ten people with aplastic anaemia have experienced a recent viral infection. Other potential triggers have been identified as exposure to certain drugs or chemicals and also radiation exposure.

However, in many cases, the cause remains unknown. When there is no obvious reason for the immune system to damage your stem cells in this way, it is known as idiopathic aplastic anaemia

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of aplastic anaemia will be anaemia caused by a reduction in red blood cells, with associated feeling of fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches and, occasionally, chest pains.

A lack of white blood cells can lead to infections, such as sinus or throat and chest infections.

Low platelets cause a tendency to bleed easily, for example, from the nose or gums, may lead to unexplained bruising, blood blisters in the mouth, but also serious bleeding, for example in the brain or in the gut.

More information about aplastic anaemia

We have information pages about the treatment you're likely to receive for aplastic anaemia, and advice on everything from benefits to booking holidays. 

Browse our information resources

Explaining aplastic anaemia to children

We produce video animations, a picture book, and age appropriate information for children (and young adults!) Find all this and more in the MarrowKidz section of our site:

Browse MarrowKidz

Get support

If you, or someone you know, has been diagnosed with aplastic anaemia - we are here to support you. No question is too big or small, and we're here if you just want to talk to someone who understands. Get in touch:

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You can order a free copy of our printed booklet in our shop or download our booklet as a pdf here

What is Aplastic Anaemia?