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Learn the Basics of the Bone Marrow Blood Test

written by: Jacquelyn Gilchrist•edited by: Emma Lloyd•updated: 6/19/2010

Your doctor may recommend undergoing a bone marrow blood test if you are experiencing some of the possible symptoms of a bone marrow disorder. This test is quick and painless, although you may feel some discomfort. To prepare yourself for the test, learn about the basics of bone marrow aspiration.

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    When To See Your Doctor

    See your doctor for a physical exam if you experience unusual or persistent symptoms. The symptoms of a potential bone marrow disorder can range from mild to severe. For example, you may simply experience fatigue, weight loss, and pain in your joints and bones. You may also notice a pallor to your skin, or notice that you bruise or bleed easily. You may experience night sweats, fevers, nausea, vomiting, and headaches. Some possible severe symptoms of a bone marrow disorder may include seizures and confusion. You may also notice swollen lymph nodes and you may go to the doctor often due to frequent infections. All of these symptoms may be indicative of a serious underlying medical problem.

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    Why a Bone Marrow Blood Test is Performed

    Just because you experience some or many of the symptoms of a potential bone marrow disorder, does not necessarily mean you have a serious underlying medical condition. Before you get too worried, have your doctor perform a bone marrow blood test, or bone marrow aspiration, to rule out possible disorders. Bone marrow disorders are typically characterized by the abnormal production of blood cells. Some of the medical conditions a bone marrow aspiration may detect include an insufficient amount of iron that your body needs to produce red blood cells, also called anemia. Your bone marrow may also be producing abnormal blood cells, which occurs with leukemia. Or it may be overproducing one specific type of blood cell, as is the case with conditions classified as myeloproliferative disorders.

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    What to Expect

    A bone marrow aspiration is a relatively simple procedure that does not typically require the patient to be unconscious, or placed under general anesthesia. If you are anxious about the test, talk to your doctor about administering a sedative. Before the procedure, your doctor will evaluate your vital signs, such as your heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure. Your doctor will instruct you to lie on either your stomach or your side. Typically, bone marrow aspirations are performed on the hip bone.

    After sterilizing the skin, your doctor will administer a local painkiller, or anesthetic, via an injection. A needle is then inserted into the bone and a syringe is used to collect fluid from inside the bone. Although you should not feel any pain, you may feel an uncomfortable pulling or pushing sensation. After the procedure, you will need to keep the injection site clean, dry, and bandaged for two days.

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    What the Results May Indicate

    The sample of marrow and blood taken from within your bone will be sent to a lab for analysis. The specialist who examines your sample will check to see whether the blood cells appear to be the normal shape and size, as well as whether there is an abnormally high or low amount of a certain blood cell. Abnormal changes in the shapes of cells, as well as the cell count, may be indicative of a disorder, such as myelofibrosis. The sample may also be examined for signs of possible infections, as well as whether there is a normal level of iron.

    If your bone marrow aspiration turns up abnormal results, talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.

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    Possible Risks

    While this procedure is generally considered safe, there are a few precautions you should take. Inform your doctor of all medications you take, as well as all of your medical conditions. This will help prevent any complications. You may experience some bleeding in the injection site area. Very rarely, patients may experience heavy bleeding and infections.