Definition of Myelodysplasia Syndrome

Different constellations of symptoms, all arising from dysfunction of the bone marrow and all leading to various cytopenias (low blood cell counts). In myelodysplasia, also called preleukemia, the number of hematopoietic cells within the bone marrow increases but the produced cells are disordered and often released to the blood while they are immature.

Myelodysplasia syndrome most commonly affects people over age 60.

Doctors do not know what causes this syndrome though a significant percentage of people who develop myelodysplasia have had exposure to industrial chemicals (notably benzenes) or radiation. Children who develop myelodysplasia often have underlying genetic disorders such as down syndrome.

Symptoms and Treatment

Myelodysplasia may affect any of the blood cells, resulting in a sometimes confusing clinical picture of mixed symptoms such as bleeding (platelet involvement) in combination with anemia (erythrocyte involvement) or with frequent infections (leukocyte involvement).

The spleen often becomes enlarged (splenomegaly) as it attempts to filter defective blood cells from the blood and activate its hematopoietic functions to increase blood cell production in compensation for the bone marrow’s inability to meet the body’s needs.

In some people myelodysplasia syndrome progresses to chronic or acute leukemia. Examination of the blood cells in a blood sample and bone marrow biopsy allow the doctor to make the diagnosis. Treatment may include transfusions of the deficient blood components and antibiotic medications as necessary to treat infections. The outlook depends primarily on the type of blood cells involved.


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