Myelodysplastic Syndromes | Symptoms and Treatments | MedStar Health
myelodysplastic syndrome

A myelodysplastic syndrome prevents healthy blood cells from forming, with their immature building blocks (the blasts) never becoming functional and dying in the bone marrow or the blood. That means a problematic shortage of one or more blood cell types:

  • Red blood cells to carry oxygen
  • White blood cells to fight off disease and infection
  • Platelets to clot the blood and stop bleeding 

While the cause of these diseases is usually unknown, they can develop from previous radiation and chemotherapy treatment for cancer. We may recommend simply managing the symptoms, or treating the disease with chemotherapy, possibly followed by a stem cell transplant. 

Learn more about blood chemotherapy or our Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation Program.

Myelodysplastic syndrome treatment

For lower-risk patients, we may recommend treatment to lessen symptoms, prevent infections, or boost the number of missing blood cells. But for higher-risk patients (and those who are strong enough), we may recommend chemotherapy, possibly followed by a stem cell transplant.

Learn more about blood chemotherapy or our Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation Program.

Myelodysplastic syndrome risk factors

While we don’t know what causes most myelodysplastic syndrome cases, there are a few risk factors:

  • Previous treatment: Radiation or chemotherapy for cancer can later cause one of the diseases.
  • Environmental exposures: Exposure to smoke, chemicals like pesticides, fertilizers and solvents, and heavy metals, like mercury or lead, can increase your risk.

Myelodysplastic syndrome symptoms

Common myelodysplastic syndrome symptoms include:

  • Easily exhaustible
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bruising or bleeding easily
  • Tiny, flat blood spots under the skin (petechiae)
  • Infections or fevers

Other conditions can cause these symptoms, too, so it’s important to see a doctor. Find a myelodysplastic syndrome expert at MedStar Health.

Myelodysplastic syndrome diagnosis

Successful myelodysplastic syndrome treatment depends on a complete and accurate diagnosis. Each of our patients receives a thorough evaluation so we can create an individualized plan. We diagnose myelodysplastic syndrome with:

  • History and Physical Examination: We complete a thorough examination and take a full personal and family medical history
  • Blood Work: We may take a blood sample to test your complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry, and other factors
  • Biopsy: We use a hollow needle to remove a small sample of bone marrow, blood, and bone from the hipbone or breastbone. The samples are studied under a microscope and may get other testing, including analysis for genetic changes

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