Dealing With Anemia and MDS
- Many patients who have myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a type of blood cancer, will have to deal with some degree of anemia.
- Anemia occurs when a person does not have enough healthy red blood cells.
- Anemia can cause symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
- Some MDS patients may have less severe anemia that only requires monitoring every few months, while others may need regular blood transfusions.
- As MDS progresses, the need for blood transfusions may increase.
Certain types of MDS can cause anemia, a condition in which patients do not have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues.Read More
Symptoms of Anemia
When a patient is dealing with low red blood cells (or anemia), they may experience:
- Shortness of breath
In many cases, MDS will cause some degree of anemia and those diagnosed with the condition may require blood transfusions, depending on the severity of their anemia.
When Is Anemia Treated?
Doctors will typically look at a patient’s hemoglobin count to determine if a transfusion is needed. When the count is less than 7-8 grams per deciliter, they may order a transfusion. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen.
In general, the treatment for MDS will depend on several factors, including:
- The type of MDS
- The prognostic score
- The patient’s age and overall health
Currently, a bone marrow transplant is the only possible cure for MDS but it’s not an option for many patients because it is an intense therapy that not all patients can tolerate. Even if the disease cannot be cured, symptoms like anemia can often be managed.
"The most common symptom of MDS is anemia or reduced red blood cells," Dr. Jun Choi, a hematologist-oncologist at NYU Langone's Perlmutter Cancer Center, tells SurvivorNet. "And some patients require frequent blood transfusions to increase red blood cell level to a particular cutoff. That is because when your red blood cell is low, you can have symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and dizziness.”
"Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen around your body and when they're low, you can have these symptoms â€¦ As the disease progresses, these requirements of transfusion amounts or frequency can increase," Dr. Choi says. At this point, another treatment such as a chemotherapy may be added to try to reduce symptoms and how often transfusions are needed.
How Does Anemia Affect Daily Life?
How anemia affects your daily life depends largely on the type of MDS you have and if the disease is considered high-risk. For patients who simply need monitoring every few months for a long period of time, their lives may not change very much at all. For patients who need regular transfusions, the time commitment can be a lot to handle initially.
“The time to travel to an infusion center, get a blood test, and then be administered the transfusion, which can take two or three hours to go in, it can be kind of like the amount of time needed for dialysis,” Dr. Stein says.
“In many parts of this country, the blood banks are not in the same site where the blood test is being done, so sometimes … a patient will need to come to a place on a Monday, get their blood drawn, send off the typing for the blood product on Monday and then the patient will have to come back on a Tuesday and then get that transfusion because the blood has to be obtained from some central blood bank.”
Dr. Stein notes that doctors need to send out requests for the right type of blood all over the country in both rural areas with fewer resources and big cities. The time commitment, he says, is one of the major challenges for patients who need regular treatment for anemia.
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