Definition

What are myelodysplastic syndromes?

Myelodysplastic syndromes are a group of disorders caused by poorly formed blood cells or ones that don’t work properly. Myelodysplastic syndromes result from something amiss in the spongy material inside your bones where blood cells are made (bone marrow).

How common are myelodysplastic syndromes?

Myelodysplastic syndromes are rare. Most people who get it are 65 or older, but it can happen to younger people, too. It is more common in men. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of myelodysplastic syndromes?

Myelodysplastic syndromes rarely cause signs or symptoms in the early stages.

In time, myelodysplastic syndromes might cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual paleness (pallor) which occurs due to a low red blood cell count (anemia)
  • Easy or unusual bruising or bleeding which occurs due to a low blood platelet count (thrombocytopenia)
  • Pinpoint-sized red spots just beneath your skin caused by bleeding (petechiae)
  • Frequent infections which occurs due to a low white blood cell count (leukopenia)

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes myelodysplastic syndromes?

In a healthy person, bone marrow makes new, immature blood cells that mature over time. Myelodysplastic syndromes occur when something disrupts this process so that the blood cells don’t mature.

Instead of developing normally, the blood cells die in the bone marrow or just after entering the bloodstream. Over time, there are more immature, defective cells than healthy ones, leading to problems such as fatigue caused by anemia, infections caused by leukopenia, and bleeding caused by thrombocytopenia.

Some myelodysplastic syndromes have no known cause. Others are caused by exposure to cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, or to toxic chemicals, such as tobacco, benzene and pesticides, or to heavy metals, such as lead.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for myelodysplastic syndromes?

There are many risk factors for myelodysplastic syndromes, such as:

  • Older age. Most people with myelodysplastic syndromes are older than 60.
  • Treatment with chemotherapy or radiation. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy, both of which are commonly used to treat cancer, can increase your risk of myelodysplastic syndromes.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals. Chemicals linked to myelodysplastic syndromes include tobacco smoke, pesticides and industrial chemicals, such as benzene.
  • Exposure to heavy metals. Heavy metals linked to myelodysplastic syndromes include lead and mercury.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How are myelodysplastic syndromes diagnosed?

To figure out whether you have one of the myelodysplastic syndromes, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and history of other health problems. She might also:

  • Do a physical exam to check for other possible reasons for your symptoms
  • Take a sample of blood to count the different types of cells
  • Get a sample of bone marrow for analysis. She or a technician will insert a special needle into your hip bone or breastbone to remove the sample.
  • Order a genetic analysis of cells from the bone marrow

How are myelodysplastic syndromes treated?

Treatment for myelodysplastic syndromes most often targets slowing disease progression, managing symptoms, such as fatigue, and preventing bleeding and infections.

If you have no symptoms, your doctor might recommend watchful waiting with regular exams and lab tests to see if the disease progresses.

Research on myelodysplastic syndromes is ongoing. Ask your doctor about clinical trials for which you might be eligible.

Blood transfusions

Blood transfusions can be used to replace red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets in people with myelodysplastic syndromes.

Medications

Treatment for myelodysplastic syndromes might include medications that:

  • Increase the number of blood cells your body makes. Called growth factors, these medications are artificial versions of substances found naturally in your bone marrow. Some growth factors, such as epoetin alfa (Epogen, Procrit) or darbepoetin alfa (Aranesp), reduce the need for blood transfusions by increasing red blood cells. Others, such as filgrastim (Neupogen, Zarxio) might help prevent infections by increasing white blood cells in people with certain myelodysplastic syndromes.
  • Stimulate blood cells to mature. Medications such as azacitidine (Vidaza) and decitabine (Dacogen) might improve the quality of life of people with certain myelodysplastic syndromes and reduce the risk of acute myelogenous leukemia.
  • Suppress your immune system. These types of medications are used in certain myelodysplastic syndromes, and might lessen the need for red blood cell transfusions.
  • Help people with a certain genetic abnormality. If your myelodysplastic syndrome is associated with a gene mutation called isolated del(5q), your doctor might recommend lenalidomide (Revlimid).
  • Treat infections. If your condition causes you to have infections, you’ll be treated with antibiotics.

Bone marrow transplant

During a bone marrow transplant, also known as a stem cell transplant, high doses of chemotherapy drugs are used to clear out the defective blood cells from your bone marrow. Then the abnormal bone marrow stem cells are replaced with healthy, donated cells (allogeneic transplant).

Newer techniques use less-toxic chemotherapy before the transplant than did older ones. However, bone marrow transplants carry a significant risk of side effects. For this reason, few people with myelodysplastic syndromes are candidates for bone marrow stem cell transplant.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage myelodysplastic syndromes?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with myelodysplastic syndromes:

  • Wash your hands. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with warm, soapy water, especially before eating or preparing food. Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for times when water isn’t available.
  • Take care with food. Thoroughly cook all meat and fish. Avoid fruits and vegetables you can’t peel, especially lettuce, and wash all produce you do use before peeling. To increase safety, you might want to avoid all raw foods.
  • Avoid people who are ill. Try to avoid close contact with anyone who is sick, including family members and co-workers.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: November 24, 2017 | Last Modified: November 24, 2017

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