Any disorder in the blood may affect the blood and inhibit the blood from accomplishing its function. These blood disorders may be inherited or may result from other diseases, effects of medications, or unhealthy diet and lifestyle.
Definition & Facts
Types of blood disorders include:
- Anemia (e.g. pernicious anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency anemia, sickle-cell anemia, folate-deficiency anemia, aplastic anemia, Fanconi anemia, iron-deficiency anemia, Diamond-Blackfan anemia, vitamin deficiency anemia)
- Platelet disorders (e.g. thrombocytosis, thrombocytopenia)
- Bleeding disorders or clotting disorders (e.g. hemophilia, hemophilia A, hemophilia B)
- Cancers (e.g. polycythemia vera, myelodysplastic syndromes, leukemia, myeloma)
A hematologist is a doctor who specializes in the study of blood. Their specialization includes problems with the blood vessels, red blood cells, and white blood cells, bone marrow, lymph nodes, platelets, spleen, and the proteins involved in bleeding and clotting.
Blood is a particular fluid in the body made up of liquids called plasma (made of fats, protein, salts, sugar, and water) and solids (contains platelets and red and white blood cells). The blood works to:
- Transfer and move oxygen and nutrients to the lungs and tissues
- Create and mold blood clots to prevent overflow leading to blood loss
- Transport cells and antibodies needed to fight infection
- Deliver waste products to the kidneys and liver where the blood is filtered and cleaned
- Normalize the temperature of the body
The blood that runs through the veins and arteries is known as whole blood. It is comprised of three types of blood cells:
- Red blood cells (RBC). Red blood cells contain the protein hemoglobin which is rich in iron. The hemoglobin gets oxygen in the lungs and releases it to the tissues as the blood travels through the body. The body contains more RBCs than any other type of cell.
- White blood cells (WBC). White blood cells function to defend the body against infection (a major component of the immune system). New WBCs are constantly being formed in the bone marrow. There are fewer white blood cells than red blood cells, but they are constantly being replenished as they fight bacteria and viruses and cancer-causing cells.
- Platelets. Platelets help in the clotting process. When a blood vessel breaks, the platelets gather in the area where there’s a broken blood vessel and work to seal off the leak. Although only platelets can stop small blood vessel leaks, proteins called clotting factors are needed to produce a strong, stable clot and to stop or slow bleeding. They work together to form solid clots to seal leaks, cuts, scratches and wounds, and prevent bleeding in the body.
Symptoms & Complaints
- Bleeding into joints
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Unexplained and easy bruising
- Excessive bleeding
A visit with a doctor is necessary to diagnose the condition and prevent complications. Different symptoms may manifest in any area in the body, depending on a variety of factors. They include:
- Decreased red blood cells and hemoglobin (anemia). Symptoms are fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.
- Decreased white blood cells. Symptoms are persistent fever and infection.
- Decreased platelet or clotting factors. Symptoms are abnormal bleeding and bruising.
- Increased red blood cells. Symptoms are headaches and plethora (red complexion).
- Increased white blood cells. Symptoms include thickening of the blood.
- Increased platelets or blood clotting factors. Symptoms are thrombosis (inexplicable, excessive blood clotting).
Inherited bleeding problems involve a parent passing along genetic mutations to their offspring. Hemophilia and von Willebrand disease are examples of inherited disorders. Acquired bleeding disorders can be complications of other conditions. Some causes of clotting/bleeding conditions are:
- Pregnancy involves a greater risk of blood clots.
- Hormone replacement therapy. Taking oral contraceptives which contain estrogen and progestin increase a person's risk of blood clots by up to four times.
- Cancer. Cancerous (malignant) cells may produce substances that lead to an increased risk of blood clots. Cancer may also result in obstructions in the veins and an increase in inflammation which also increases the risk of clots.
- Certain types of surgery can increase swelling and encourage blood pooling in the veins while impeding clot breakdown.
- Inflammatory disorders such as Crohn’s disease, infections, and ulcerative colitis can increase the risk of blood clots.
- Nephrotic syndrome. This is a kidney disorder that causes the body to release too much protein in the urine. These associated changes may cause the formation of blood clots.
Diagnosis & Tests
Blood tests are a part of routine checkups but if a blood disorder is suspected, they may be more extensive. The most common types of tests include:
- RBC: the numbers, size, and types of RBC in the blood
- WBC: the numbers and types of WBC in the blood
- Platelets: the numbers and size of the platelets
- Hemoglobin: the amount of hemoglobin in the red blood cells
- Hematocrit: determines the percentage of red blood cells in the blood
- Reticulocyte count: this tests how many reticulocytes (immature red blood cells) there are in the blood
- Mean corpuscular volume (MCV): the average size of the red blood cells
The complete blood count (CBC) is one of the most common blood tests. It usually includes most or all of these tests that will enable the doctor to:
- Determine a person's overall health
- Help doctors check for certain diseases and conditions
- Evaluate how well organs are working
- Find out the patient's risk factors for heart disease
- Check whether the patient’s medications are working
- Assess how well the patient’s blood is clotting
Aside from these, the doctor will consider the patient’s signs and symptoms, medical history, vital signs, and possibly run imaging studies like computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to confirm a diagnosis.
Treatment & Therapy
Treatment depends upon the nature of the blood disorder but can include the following:
- Aspirin is an over-the-counter medication that can thin the blood and reduce the risk of blood clots. To avoid experiencing aspirin side effects, one should take it only upon the recommendation of the doctor.
- Prescription medications. The doctor may recommend some types of medications, depending on the type of blood disorder.
- Radiation. Radiation helps lower the level of red blood cell and preserve the blood flow and thickness near to normal range. However, radiation treatment can raise the danger of leukemia and other blood diseases.
Prevention & Prophylaxis
- Doing exercises when seated and getting up and walking around as often as possible
- Drinking fluids, preferably water to stay hydrated
- Becoming aware of the symptoms of blood clots and seeing a doctor right away if the signs show
- Researching one's family history of blood clots
- Checking if there is a need for long-term anticoagulant medicines to prevent blood clots.