Blood Disorders

Blood disorders occur when something in your blood prevents it from doing its job. While genes cause some blood disorders, some can develop due to other diseases, medications, or a lack of nutrients in your diet.

There are several different types of blood disorders. Some resolve completely with therapy, do not cause symptoms, and do not affect overall lifespan (they are benign). Some are chronic and lifelong but do not affect how long you live. Other blood disorders, like sickle cell disease and blood cancers, can be fatal. The blood disorder list includes:

  • Anemia.
  • Hemophilia.
  • Leukocytosis.
  • Polycythemia vera.
  • Sickle cell disease.
  • Thalassemia.
  • Von Willebrand disease.

How do blood disorders affect my body?
A blood disorder can develop when a part of your blood doesn’t do its job. Blood disorders tend to involve:

  • The red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets comprise the solid part of your blood.
  • The blood proteins play a role in clotting.

People with red blood cell disorders don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to their organs. They may feel cold, tired, or weak.

People with white blood cell disorders may feel ill and are at increased risk of developing infections.

People with platelet disorders have trouble with bleeding or clotting.

What are the most common types of blood disorders?
Benign blood disorders include bleeding (platelet) disorders, red blood cell disorders like anemia, and white blood cells. Other blood disorders can cause chronic illness or are life-threatening, like sickle cell anemia, leukemia, and lymphoma.

Bleeding (platelet) disorders
Platelets form clots and help control bleeding. Bleeding (platelet) disorders are uncommon. You may have too much bleeding during or after injury or surgery if you have a bleeding disorder. Bleeding disorders can be acquired or caused by medications or medical conditions. Your genes cause some. Sometimes, there is no known cause for bleeding disorders.

Red blood cell disorders
Red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body. You can develop a red blood cell disorder if a component of these blood cells is not working properly. Red blood cell disorders include:
Polycythemia vera.
Sickle cell disease.

White blood cell disorders
White blood cells are produced in the bone marrow. Unless you have an infection or a blood disorder, you make about 100 billion white blood cells daily. There are five types of white blood cells: basophils, eosinophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, and neutrophils. Each type of white blood cell has a particular function in your blood.
Blood disorders involving abnormally low levels of white blood cells are called leukopenias. If you have leukopenia, you are at increased risk for infections.

What causes the condition?
Bleeding disorders can be acquired, or caused by medications or medical conditions. Many run in families. Sometimes, there is no known cause for bleeding disorders.

Causes of low levels of white blood cells include:

  • Acute viral infections.
  • Fasting
  • Severe physical stress
  • Corticosteroids
  • Cancer therapies
  • Malnutrition.

Causes of high levels of white blood cells include:

  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Excessive physical or emotional stress
  • Burns
  • Immune system disorders
  • Thyroid problems

What are the common symptoms of blood disorders?
Common symptoms of red blood cell disorders include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache

Common symptoms of white blood cell disorders include:

  • Fever
  • Frequent infections

Common symptoms of platelet disorders include:

  • Excessive bleeding after injury
  • Excessive bleeding during or after dental or medical procedures
  • Blood clots
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Easy bruising
  • Skin rash

Who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders?
Hematologists are medical doctors with expertise in blood health and disease. All Coastal Cancer Center providers are trained hematologists.

How are blood disorders diagnosed?
Your hematologist uses your medical history, a physical examination, and laboratory testing to assess blood disorders.
Your provider may order other, more specific tests to check for particular blood disorders.

In rare cases, your provider may order a bone marrow biopsy.

Sometimes diagnosing clotting disorders can be complex. You may have bleeding symptoms, but even after extensive testing, no abnormalities can be identified.

Can blood disorders be cured?
Some blood disorders may be cured with treatment. For others, treatment may help you feel better and prevent complications even if it doesn’t cure the condition.

What treatments are there for blood disorders?
Treatments vary depending on the type of disease, and can include:

  • Simple observation
  • Steroids and other immune-modulating therapies
  • Coagulation factor support
  • Growth factor supplementation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Bone marrow transplantation

Are blood disorders preventable?
Some blood disorders cannot be prevented, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of experiencing complications. This is why early diagnosis and management are important.

How can I reduce my risk?
Although blood disorders can’t be prevented, you can decrease your risk of developing complications by taking good care of yourself. This means:

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals, including iron like the following eggs, turkey, lean beef, organ meat such as kidney and liver, legumes like black beans, leafy green vegetables, and brown rice.
  • Stay active with regular exercise.
  • Avoid sitting still for long periods of time.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Get regular check-ups with your healthcare provider and be sure to get any blood tests they order.
  • Take steps to prevent infection. Be sure to wash your hands well and often. Talk with your provider about the seasonal flu shot (vaccine).

What can I expect if I have a blood disorder?
If your healthcare provider thinks that you may have a blood disorder, you will need to have blood tests. If the blood tests confirm a blood disorder, you will need to take good care of yourself, including eating a balanced, healthy diet and getting enough exercise. You may need medications or other treatments and may be referred to a hematologist.

How long will I have a blood disorder?
Some blood disorders go away with treatment, while others can last for the rest of your life. The good news is that treatment often relieves symptoms and helps to manage complications.