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Bone marrow under microscope

Aplastic anemia and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) are uncommon but serious diseases that impact blood and bone marrow—the soft, spongy tissue found inside bones that produce blood cells. While they are two distinct conditions, aplastic anemia and MDS share many similarities and—in very rare cases—can occur alongside each other.  


Both aplastic anemia and MDS are characterized by damaged bone marrow that fails to manufacture enough healthy blood cells. However, these diseases damage bone marrow in slightly different ways.  

Aplastic anemia

Affecting about one or two Americans, aplastic anemia typically develops in children and younger adults, although it can also be inherited. It occurs when the stem cells that make blood cells in the bone marrow are injured or destroyed, leading to a shortage of healthy blood cells and causing potentially serious symptoms, such as recurrent infections. Many in the medical community consider severe aplastic anemia to be an autoimmune disorder.


Often referred to as a singular disease, MDS is actually a group of diseases that cause abnormal blood cell production and a lack of mature, properly functioning blood cells. When blood cells are produced, they may die in the bone marrow or shortly after entering the bloodstream. MDS most often affects adults over 60 and increases the risk of a rapidly growing form of cancer called acute myeloid leukemia (AML). MDS itself is also considered to be a cancerous disease.

Signs and symptoms   

Aplastic anemia and MDS produce very similar symptoms, although the signs of each condition may vary significantly from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Persistent fatigue and weakness
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Frequent nosebleeds or bleeding gums
  • Frequent, unexplained infections
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Unusual paleness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Tiny red spots just beneath the surface of the skin 

Our approach

Moffitt Cancer Center offers individualized treatment options for both aplastic anemia and MDS, including advanced bone marrow transplantation services through our Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy Program. Call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online if you would like to discuss your symptoms or treatment options with a Moffitt physician. Your cancer diagnosis is our top priority. We will connect you to  a cancer expert as soon as possible.