Myelodysplastic syndrome can pertain to one of several disorders that stem from the misproduction of blood cells. It primarily appears in the elderly, so myelodysplastic syndrome life expectancy is not too different from what a normal person’s life expectancy. There may be no easy cure but that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Most often a permanent cure is afforded from a bone marrow transplant, however this is to be decided upon by triage.
The classic symptom of any myelodysplastic syndrome is a reduction in the number of healthy blood cells. This, of course, does not mean that myelodysplastic syndrome is the cause of the reduction, which is why further tests are performed. Sometimes, myelodysplastic syndrome does not even display problematic symptoms, and is only identified upon a routine blood count.
Problems leading to complications of the many myelodysplastic syndromes include:
- Anemia. This is not a symptom unique to myelodysplastic syndrome, but it is a result of the lack of proper cells in the blood stream. Anemia can lead to dizziness, shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, and sometimes chills. This is because the red cells in the blood that give it the distinct color it is known for are produced insufficiently, and therefore the organs that need oxygen, carried by the red blood cells, lack it, leading to an inability to generate energy. If this is the only symptom so far, then it would be prudent to simply observe the progression. This can sometimes be treated by giving iron supplements, but not always.
- Neutropenia. A decreased production of neutrophils (a form of white blood cell) leads to a lowered immune system response. White blood cells are part of our immune systems, and neutrophils are the white blood cell most present at any acute inflammation. They secrete substances to inflame the surrounding tissues, as well as directly devour invading microbes, release substances to destroy microbes, and lay traps to ensnare the invading microbes and prevent their further spread. This vital function is impaired if the body cannot produce enough blood cells.
- Thrombocytopenia. Thrombocytes, also known as platelets, are vital to blood clotting and wound repair. A deficiency of working platelets will lead to delayed wound healing. Coupled with the neutropenia listed above, this can cause wounds to delay healing as well as increase the risk of infection.
- Splenomegaly. The spleen filters out malformed red blood cells to maintain the overall quality of red blood cells in circulation, as well as recycle the components of the red blood cells it destroyed. Myelodysplastic syndromes not only decrease the number of functioning blood cells but increase the number of malformed, non-functional blood cells. This means that the spleen needs to do more work, and for most organs, when they need to do more work, the organ enlarges in a process known as hypertrophy. This applies to the spleen as well. Splenomegaly could result in death if the area that the enlarged spleen will occupy is percussed hard enough. To put that amount of force into context it’s like knocking on a door to produce a moderately loud rap. The spleen, if ruptured, will hemorrhage and cause enough internal bleeding, leading to death in minutes.
- Acute myeloid leukemia. Not technically a symptom but this is the ultimate fate of myelodysplastic syndrome. Once this appears the prognosis worsens. The patient typically has at most a year, and that’s being optimistic.
It must be emphasized that while myelodysplastic syndrome is most likely a terminal illness, it should not be very restrictive on the quality of life. Thanks to our advances in medicine, therapies and cures for the more fatal variants are possible. Myelodysplastic syndrome life expectancy can be higher if detected early and treated well.