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Myelophthisic Anemia

By

Evan M. Braunstein

, MD, PhD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Last full review/revision Mar 2020| Content last modified Mar 2020
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Myelophthisic anemia is a normocytic, normochromic anemia that occurs when normal marrow space is infiltrated and replaced by nonhematopoietic or abnormal cells. Causes include tumors, granulomatous disorders, lipid storage diseases, and primary myelofibrosis. Bone marrow fibrosis often occurs as a secondary process as well. Splenomegaly may develop. Characteristic changes in peripheral blood include anisocytosis, poikilocytosis, and excessive numbers of red blood cell and white blood cell precursors. Diagnosis usually requires bone marrow biopsy. Treatment is supportive and includes measures directed at the underlying disorder.

Descriptive terms used in this anemia can be confusing. Myelofibrosis, which is replacement of marrow by fibrous tissue bands, may be idiopathic (primary) or secondary. Primary myelofibrosis Primary Myelofibrosis Primary myelofibrosis (PMF) is a chronic myeloproliferative neoplasm characterized by bone marrow fibrosis, splenomegaly, and anemia with nucleated and teardrop-shaped red blood cells. Diagnosis... read more is a stem cell defect in which the fibrosis is secondary to other hematopoietic intramedullary events. Myelosclerosis is new bone formation that sometimes accompanies myelofibrosis. Myeloid metaplasia refers to extramedullary hematopoiesis in the liver, spleen, or lymph nodes that may accompany myelophthisis due to any cause. An old term, agnogenic myeloid metaplasia, indicates primary myelofibrosis with or without myeloid metaplasia.

Etiology of Myelophthisic Anemia

The most common cause of myelophthisic anemia is

  • Replacement of bone marrow by metastatic cancer

Cancers most often involved include breast or prostate; less often kidney, lung, adrenal, or thyroid cancers are the cause. Extramedullary hematopoiesis tends to be modest.

Decreased functional hematopoietic tissue due to bone marrow infiltration is the main cause of anemia.

Symptoms and Signs of Myelophthisic Anemia

Myeloid metaplasia may result in splenomegaly, particularly in patients with storage diseases. In severe cases, symptoms of anemia and of the underlying disorder may be present. Massive splenomegaly can cause abdominal pressure, early satiety, cachexia, portal hypertension Portal Hypertension Portal hypertension is elevated pressure in the portal vein. It is caused most often by cirrhosis (in developed countries), schistosomiasis (in endemic areas), or hepatic vascular abnormalities... read more , and left upper quadrant abdominal pain; hepatomegaly may be present. Hepatosplenomegaly is rare with myelofibrosis due to malignant tumors.

Diagnosis of Myelophthisic Anemia

  • Complete blood count (CBC), red blood cell (RBC) indices, reticulocyte count, and peripheral smear

  • Bone marrow examination

Myelophthisic anemia is suspected in patients with normocytic anemia, particularly when splenomegaly or a potential underlying cancer is present. If it is suspected, a peripheral smear Peripheral smear Anemia is a decrease in the number of red blood cells (RBCs—as measured by the red cell count, the hematocrit, or the red cell hemoglobin content). In men, anemia is defined as hemoglobin read more Peripheral smear should be done, because a leukoerythroblastic pattern (immature myeloid and erythroid cells such as myelocytes and metamyelocytes, and normoblasts or other nucleated RBCs) suggests myelophthisic anemia. Extramedullary hematopoiesis or disruption of the marrow sinusoids causes release of immature myeloid cells and nucleated red cells into the periphery. Abnormally shaped RBCs, typically teardrop-shaped (dacrocytes), are also present.

Anemia, usually moderate to severe, is characteristically normocytic but may be slightly macrocytic. RBC morphology may show extreme variation (anisocytosis and poikilocytosis) in size and shape. The white blood cell count may vary. The platelet count is often low, and platelets are often large and bizarre in shape.

Although examination of peripheral blood can be suggestive, diagnosis usually requires bone marrow examination Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy Anemia is a decrease in the number of red blood cells (RBCs—as measured by the red cell count, the hematocrit, or the red cell hemoglobin content). In men, anemia is defined as hemoglobin read more Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy . Indications include a leukoerythroblastic pattern and unexplained splenomegaly. The marrow may be difficult to aspirate; marrow trephine biopsy is usually required. Findings vary according to the underlying disorder. Erythropoiesis is normal or increased in some cases. Hematopoiesis may be present in the spleen and liver.

X-rays, if obtained incidentally, may disclose bony lesions (myelosclerosis) characteristic of long-standing myelofibrosis or other osseous changes (ie, osteoblastic or lytic lesions of a tumor), suggesting the cause of anemia.

Treatment of Myelophthisic Anemia

Key Points

  • Myelophthisic anemia is a normocytic-normochromic anemia that occurs when normal marrow space is infiltrated and replaced by nonhematopoietic or abnormal cells.

  • The most common cause is replacement of bone marrow by metastatic cancer; other causes include myeloproliferative disorders, granulomatous diseases, and lipid storage diseases.

  • Suspect myelophthisic anemia in patients with normocytic anemia and characteristic findings on peripheral smear, particularly in those with splenomegaly or a known causative disorder; confirm with bone marrow examination.

  • Treat the cause and transfuse as needed.

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