Risks to Donors in Bone Marrow Transplants

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Bone marrow transplants are used to treat aplastic anemia and some immunodeficiency disorders, which prevent a patient's own marrow from producing blood cells. They help cancer patients recover from the effects of high-dose chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which can destroy bone marrow. They are also effective treatments for lymphoma and leukemia, cancers that begin in a patient's immune system and bone marrow. But before becoming a bone marrow donor, talk to your doctor about the potential risks you might encounter.

The Facts

When you donate bone marrow for a transplant, you will be given anesthesia and taken to an operating room. The surgeon makes about four small incisions on your back. She then uses those incisions to insert a hollow needle through your skin into your pelvic bone so that she can remove some of your bone marrow. Hospital staff will monitor your recovery as the anesthesia wears off. In a typical procedure, you can leave the hospital that same day. There are potential risks to donors in bone marrow transplants, including adverse reactions to anesthesia, nerve damage and pain, but in most instances there are no long-term adverse effects.

Reaction to Anesthesia

Bone marrow donors can be given either general anesthesia or local in the form of an epidural. Both types of anesthesia can trigger adverse reactions. You may experience a dangerous drop in blood pressure or a suppressed rate of breathing. If you have an allergic reaction to the anesthesia, you may have breathing problems during the procedure. There is a slight risk that your adverse reaction will be severe enough to cause death.

Pain

Anesthesia blocks the pain of the actual bone marrow donation process. When it is over, most people experience some stiffness and minor pain. You may feel more pain than the average person, severe enough to interfere with your daily activities. The pain may also last longer than the usual few days' discomfort that is expected. Complications like infection or internal damage done during the procedure increase your risk of being in pain.

Nerve Damage

During the bone marrow donation procedure, there is a risk that you will experience nerve damage. This may happen when the surgeon makes incisions in your back or when the hollow needle is inserted into your body to withdraw the marrow for the transplant. If one of your nerves is damaged, you may experience pain, difficulty with mobility or a loss of sensation.

Other

Other risks to donors in bone marrow transplants include muscle or bone damage while marrow is being retrieved. You may get an infection during the healing process or experience bleeding from the incision sites during your recovery. While most donors are back to their regular routines in a few days, there is a risk that you will feel more fatigue than most people. If that happens, it may take a few weeks for you to feel recovered from the donation process. The chance that you will experience any of these complications is slim; most donors recover quickly and completely with no long-term problems.

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