Healthy Living

What Is Bone Marrow? - Diseases, Symptoms, and Transplant

What Is Bone Marrow? - Diseases, Symptoms, and Transplant

Key Takeaways

  • Myelodysplastic syndromes, Aplastic Anemia, and Leukemia are the three types of bone marrow disorders which can impair the functions of bone marrow and affect its ability to produce blood cells and platelets.
  • Constituting only about 4% of the body mass in the human body, Bone marrow is responsible for 500 billion blood cells every day.
  • A bone marrow transplant is undertaken to replace damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells.

What Is Bone Marrow?

Bone Marrow is the flexible tissue present in the interior of the bones. Constituting only about 4% of the body mass in the human body, Bone marrow is responsible for 500 billion blood cells every day. It is also a key component of the lymphatic system as it produces lymphocytes to support the immune system. Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), which are present in the red bone marrow found in the core of most bones, give rise to blood cells through a process known as ‘Hematopoiesis’. The types of Blood cells which are produced by bone marrow are:

  • Red blood cells – Perform the task of carrying oxygen from the lungs to other body parts.
  • White blood cells – Are responsible for producing antibodies and chemicals to protect the body from infections.
  • Platelets – Perform the function of clotting the blood, when a person sustains an injury, to prevent blood loss.

Bone marrow is a vital part of your body which sustains life. If it gets affected severely, the outcome can even be death. This can happen due to an infection or severe blood loss. RBCs live up to 120 days, platelets up to 8 days, and WBCs only a day. So if the bone marrow gets affected, the risk of catching an infection increases significantly, and this can even be fatal for the affected. Since an affected bone marrow cannot effectively function, platelet count drops dramatically such that even a minor cut can lead to severe blood loss due to lower count of platelets.    

The Types of Bone Marrow Diseases

Leukemia

Leukemia is the cancer of bone marrow. People who are suffering from this disease have abnormal blood cell formulation, generally white blood cells. The disease causes the blood cells to mutate. These abnormal WBCs do not die easily, which causes the accumulation of too much space, reducing the space for normal cells.

Symptoms of Leukemia:

  1. A person suffering from Leukemia might suffer from poor blood clotting. This means that whenever a person bears even minor cuts, the clotting process is extremely slow.
  2. Weak immune system is another sign of Leukemia, which stops working properly due to the disease. The person might get frequent infections, or their immune system might start fighting against the necessary body cells which are required for a healthy life.

Patients might also experience:

Since these symptoms can occur due to other medical conditions, only a medical test can confirm the presence of Leukemia.

Aplastic Anemia

Aplastic Anemia occurs when your body is incapable of producing new body cells. Though a rare condition, a person can develop the disease at any stage during his or her lifetime. It leaves the affected person fatigued and prone to excessive bleeding. This disease becomes severe over time and might occur suddenly.

Symptoms of Aplastic Anemia:

The symptoms a person might exhibit if he or she has been affected by this disease are:

  • Shortening of breath with little exertion
  • Skin turning pale
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness and persistent fatigue
  • Frequent nose bleeds and gum bleeding
  • Excessive bleeding from cuts
  • Skin rashes
  • Frequent infections

This disease can grow slowly over time and even appear suddenly from nowhere for some patients. It can be fatal and lead to severe conditions.

Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS)

MDS is a collection of disorders which are caused by dysfunctional or irregularly created blood cells. The condition arises when the bone marrow gets affected and cannot produce well-formed blood cells which have the ability to function properly.

Symptoms of MDS:

Myelodysplastic syndromes rarely show any symptoms in the early stages. As it progresses, a person might experience:

  • Unusual Paleness
  • Red spots beneath the skin due to bleeding
  • Frequent infections
  • Fatigue and shortness of breath
  • Easy bleeding even from minor cuts which does not stop for a long time.

Bone Marrow Transplant

A bone marrow transplant is undertaken to replace damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells. This medical procedure involves the transplantation of blood stem cells, which travel to the bone marrow and perform the function of producing new blood cells while also promoting the growth of new morrow. Thriving stem cells for the affected person come from a donor. The procedure to transplant the bone marrow is undertaken when the patient’s bone marrow is not capable of functioning properly on its own.

There are two types of bone marrow transplantation techniques:

  1. Autologous Transplant: It involves harvesting the patient’s own stem cells before beginning a therapy like radiation or chemotherapy. A person can undergo this if they have healthy bone marrow. It can help to reduce the risk of developing complications like Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD), a condition where the donor’s stem cells attack a recipient’s cells.
  2. Allogeneic Transplant: It involves the transplanting of a donor’s stem cells into the patient’s body when his or her bone marrow is incapable of functioning properly. Though it leaves a risk of the patient suffering GVHD, the transplant depends on how closely the donor’s marrow matches yours to minimize the risk.

Bone Marrow Transplant Procedure

The process of a bone marrow transplant is strikingly similar to that of a blood transfusion. In allogeneic transplant, a donor’s marrow is used for harvesting stem cells; in case your own cells are being used, they are generally taken from the stem. For harvesting, the cells are collected from the hip bone whilst the patient is under anesthesia so that they do not feel pain. A machine separates the WBCs that contain the stem cells from the blood using leukapheresis. A needle is then inserted into the patient’s upper right portion of the chest, which allows the blood with new stem cells to flow to the heart and eventually into the bone marrow where they initiate and start to formulate. This procedure is carried out over several sessions for a few days, because of which the port or the needle is left in place. Multiple sessions help the new stem cells to establish themselves inside the patient’s body.