Myelofibrosis is a condition that affects the bone marrow of an individual’s body, causing fibrous tissue to grow where the production of blood cells takes place. As the amount of fibrous tissue in the bone marrow increases, the bone marrow’s ability to produce blood cells is reduced significantly.
The lack of blood cells flowing through the body can cause a wide range of adverse effects, depending on the type of blood cells affected.
There are three types of blood cells in the body; red blood cells which carry oxygen to different parts of the body, white blood cells which are responsible for fighting infections, and platelets which let the body heal. A reduction in any one of these types of blood cells can cause havoc inside the body.
Also known as idiopathic myelofibrosis, agnogenic myeloid metaplasia, and myelofibrosis with myeloid metaplasia, myelofibrosis can affect individuals of any age. Individuals over the age of 50 are diagnosed with the condition most often and it occurs in men more often than women.
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First described in medical texts in 1879, myelofibrosis is considered a rare condition, affecting 2 out of every 100,000 individuals in the United States. Pediatric cases of the condition are even rarer, suggesting that the condition is acquired rather than inherited genetically.
The risk factors for the condition are largely unknown, but experts believe that long-term exposure to high levels of certain chemicals, such as benzene, can contribute to the development of myelofibrosis.
Cases of myelofibrosis can remain asymptomatic for a long period of time. Once symptoms do appear, the common symptoms of myelofibrosis can be mistaken for the symptoms of a wide variety of illnesses. Individuals may experience pale skin, fever, night sweats, shortness of breath, easy bruising, excessive bleeding, loss of appetite, weight loss, and/or fatigue.
In many cases, as the condition progresses, anemia develops as the number of red blood cells in the bloodstream decreases. This means that oxygen cannot travel through the body as effectively, starving portions of the body of oxygen.
Anemia causes excessive fatigue, lethargy, muscle weakness, and shortness of breath. In some cases, the affected white blood cells begin to collect in the liver and spleen of the individual affected with myelofibrosis, causing these organs to swell and operate inefficiently.
Myelofibrosis is characterized by a slow, steady progression of the condition. Treatments that may be used are intended to control the condition and alleviate the symptoms.
There is no effective cure for myelofibrosis and no one knows the way to prevent the condition or halt its progression, although the progression of the condition can be slowed by a number of treatments.
Some of the treatments for myelofibrosis used to alleviate the symptoms include chemotherapy, medications, radiation therapy, blood transfusions, and surgery. Bone marrow transplantation has been found to be an effective treatment for those healthy enough to withstand the effects of the treatment.
Because of the increased age of many of the individuals diagnosed with myelofibrosis, bone marrow transplantation as a treatment option is rarely used due to the high risk of adverse complications and the length of time needed to heal from the procedure.
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