Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) – Symptoms, causes, types & risk factors

Myelodysplastic syndrome

Myelodysplastic syndromes are group of disorders which are caused by poorly formed blood cells or by blood cells that do not work properly. The myelodysplastic syndromes are resulting from something amiss in the spongy material that is inside your bones where the blood cells are made (it is known as bone marrow).

The treatment which is used for myelodysplastic syndromes is usually focusing on reducing and preventing complications of the disease and its treatments. Also, there are some cases when it can involve a bone marrow transplant or chemotherapy.


Myelodysplastic syndrome

In rare cases there are signs and symptoms caused by myelodysplastic syndromes in the early stages. As the time passes, myelodysplastic syndromes can cause

  • Frequent infections which occurs due to a low white blood cell count (called leukopenia)
  • Pinpoint – sized red spots just beneath your skin caused by bleeding (called petechiae)
  • Easy or unusual bruising or bleeding which occurs due to a low blood platelet count (called thrombocytopenia)
  • Unusual paleness (pallor) which happens due to a low red blood cell count (anemia)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

If you have some signs and symptoms that worry you, then you need to talk with your doctor.


The bone marrow in a healthy person makes new and immature blood cells which mature over time. The myelodysplastic syndromes happen when something disrupts this process so the blood cells cannot mature. Blood cells do not develop normally. Instead, they die in the bone marrow or just after entering the bloodstream.

As the time passes, there are more immature and defective cells than healthy ones which is leading to problems, such as bleeding caused by thrombocytopenia, infections caused by leukopenia and fatigue caused by anemia. There are some myelodysplastic syndromes which do not have known cause. Other myelodysplastic syndromes can be caused by exposure to cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, or to heavy metals, such as lead or to toxic chemicals, such as pesticides, benzene and tobacco.

Myelodysplastic syndrome types

The myelodysplastic syndromes are divided into subtypes which is based on the type of blood cells (red cells, white cells and platelets) which are involved. Here are subtypes of this syndromes

Myelodysplastic syndrome, unclassifiable: This is uncommon syndrome. In this type, there are reduced numbers of one of the three types of mature blood cells and they can be platelets or white blood cells that look abnormal under a microscope.

Myelodysplastic syndrome with excess blasts – types 1 and 2: In these types, any of the three types of blood cells, can be low and they can appear abnormal under a microscope. Very immature blood cells are found in the bone marrow and blood.

Myelodysplastic syndrome associated with isolated del chromosome abnormality: Those people who have this type of this syndrome, have low numbers of red blood cells and the cells have a specific mutation in their DNA.

Myelodysplastic syndrome with ring sideroblasts: This type has two subtypes which are involving a low number of one or more blood cell types. This type has one characteristic and that is the existing red blood cells in the bone marrow have a ring of excess iron called sideroblasts.

Myelodysplastic syndrome with multilineage dysplasia: When someone has this type of this syndrome, then 2 or 3 blood cell types are abnormal.

Myelodysplastic syndrome with unilineage dysplasia: One blood cell type is low in number and it appears abnormal under the microscope.

Risk factors

Here are some factors which can increase your risk of getting this syndrome

  • Exposure to heavy metals: Lead and mercury are heavy metals which are linked to this syndrome.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals: There are some chemicals linked to that syndrome, such as pesticides, tobacco smoke and industrial chemicals, such as benzene.
  • Treatment with chemotherapy or radiation: Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are used to treat cancer and they can increase your risk of getting that syndrome.
  • Older age: It is noticed that most cases of this syndromes are in people who are older than 60.


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