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Pancytopenia - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

Updated on December 22, 2013


What is Pancytopenia?

Pancytopenia is a medical condition described by the deficiency in blood cells of all types characterized by a decrease in the number of their count. The condition involves the red blood cells or erythrocytes, white blood cells or leukocytes and also involves the platelets. The condition is somehow mistaken for other conditions involving the blood cells such as that of anemia or decreased in the number of red blood cells. Apparently, pancytopenia is among the manifestations of a group of disorders involving the bone marrow and which is called the bone marrow syndrome.

Blood cells are generally contained in the blood and the three categories of which have its own function vital to humans.

Erythrocyte or the red blood cell functions mainly in transporting oxygen to different body tissue and organs which is significant to survival and healthy functioning. Erythrocyte is also responsible for eliminating carbon dioxide and other waste product of metabolic activity in the body. Red blood cell is primarily a life-maintaining fluid that flow in the entire human body and which is the most abundant among the other blood cells in the human body.

Leukocyte or the white blood cell works along with the red blood cell and is involved with the immune system of the body to ward off foreign components and any other infection in the body. White blood cell is generally produced in the bone marrow from hematopoietic stem cell. It is often that an increase in the number of leukocyte is an indication of an infection or onset of a disease. White blood cell can be characterized as either granulocyte or agranulocytes with these two characteristics defining the presence or absence of granules in the cytoplasm of the white blood cell. There are also various types of leukocytes although all types have one and the same function in the system which is that of defending the body from any foreign components and infections.

Thrombocyte or platelet is vital for the formation of blood clots in humans thus preventing profuse bleeding. Low level of platelet count however can lead to bleeding in excess while an increase level in the blood can result to blood clots or thrombosis that can lead to obstruction of blood vessels to body organs or any part of the body.


Manifestation of pancytopenia is generally internal in nature while a lot of deficiency or abnormality that can manifest is mainly the result of a decrease in the platelet count and level of blood cells. Although manifestation of pancytopenia is internal in nature, pancytopenia can also be observed with physical manifestations and the major signs and symptoms include the following:

Infection is the result of an incursion of different microorganisms in the body and body tissue resulting to their multiplication and reaction to host including the toxins emitted after it has invaded the body or certain part of the body while attacking the immune system.

Fatigue is the general feeling of weakness or tiredness and lack of motivation which can affect either or both the physical and mental state of an individual. Extreme episode of fatigue and weakness on the other hand is among the symptoms of pancytopenia indicating a life-threatening situation and needs immediate medical attention.

Petechiae may arise as a result of hemorrhage occurring in the tiny blood vessels. This symptom is characterized by onset of tiny red spots over the skin.

Hemorrhage is among the symptoms of pancytopenia resulting from a decrease in the number of platelet.

Other general symptoms of pancytopenia include the following:

  • Shortness or difficulty in breathing
  • Tachycardia
  • Frequent nose bleeding
  • Bruising of the skin
  • Skin pallor


The condition of pancytopenia may occur in two forms; idiopathic or the etiology is unknown and; secondary or the etiology is implicated on environmental factors, exposure to contaminants or hereditary. Half of the majority case of pancytopenia is believed to have been from an idiopathic form. Autoimmune disorder has also been implicated to the etiology of pancytopenia believed to be the result of immune system of the body attacking its own tissue.

Factors believed to have triggered pancytopenia include:

  • Medical exposure such as the use of certain antibiotics and immunosuppressive drugs; other drugs are also believed to the trigger such as anti-thyroid, cytotoxics, anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and medicine prescribed for high blood pressure.
  • Disorder of the bone marrow such as Bone Marrow Failure Syndrome in which the bone marrow has difficulty in either increasing or decreasing production of blood cells.
  • Radiation therapy can also result to pancytopenia resulting from a destruction in the bone marrow.
  • Pregnancy is also believed to result to the condition although this factor is rather rare in incidence.
  • Hereditary factor is also believed to be behind the onset of pancytopenia.
  • Exposure to chemicals and toxins such as benzene is also another factor for the trigger of the condition.
  • Autoimmune disorders is also being linked to the condition such as lupus and HIV.


The initial diagnostic procedure carried out in suspicion of pancytopenia is through blood test. The blood test can determine decrease in the levels of red blood cell, white blood cell and platelet. Family medical history is also being noted for any member of the family suffering from pancytopenia as the condition is also believed to have risen from heredity. Further confirmation of pancytopenia and to isolate it from other condition or disorders that might have caused the reduction in the levels of blood cells and platelets can be done through bone marrow biopsy.


Treatment of Pancytopenia is carried out through identification of the underlying condition that contributed to decrease in the levels of blood cells and platelets. Mild form of Pancytopenia usually would not need medication or any medical intervention. Blood transfusion may help to those with moderate Pancytopenia although blood transfusion although this intervention does not guarantee a permanent cure as this may become ineffective overtime. Bone marrow transplant is recommended for those with severe form of Pancytopenia although this rarely occurs. Other medications utilized are those that can stimulate production of the bone marrow to help increase levels of the blood cells and platelets.


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