What are blood disorders?
Blood disorders are a family of different diseases that affect some part of the blood. Your blood consists of a liquid part and a solid part. The liquid part is plasma. Plasma contains water, salts and proteins. It makes up a little more than half of your blood volume. The solid part contains red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Several organs and tissues support the blood and its functions. This includes the bone marrow, lymphatic system, clotting proteins, spleen, liver and kidneys. Problems with these supporting tissues or with a blood cell, blood protein or other components of the blood can cause a blood disorder.
Numerous types of blood disorders affect millions of Americans. There are several ways to classify them—inherited or acquired, cancerous or noncancerous, and by the blood component the disorder affects. Some of the more common types of blood disorders include:
Bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia and von Willebrand’s disease
Clotting disorders and blood clots (thrombophilia)
Blood cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma
Many blood disorders are inherited. Having a family history of these blood disorders increases the risk of developing the disease.
Blood disorder symptoms depend on the part of the blood affected. Some common symptoms include fatigue, fever, infections, and abnormal bleeding. Blood disorder treatment can sometimes cure the condition or at least manage it to prevent complications, but some disorders have a poor prognosis.
See your doctor for any unusual symptoms that persist for more than a couple of weeks. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for sudden symptoms that may indicate a serious or life-threatening condition including:
What are the symptoms of blood disorders?
Many blood disorders arise from an increase or decrease of a particular blood factor or component, such as an enzyme required for blood to clot normally. Symptoms depend on whether the disorder increases or decreases the component. Some disorders cause sudden or acute symptoms. Others have symptoms that develop slowly with time.
Some common symptoms of anemia include:
Cold hands and feet and pale skin
Fatigue and weakness
Hair loss and brittle nails
Headache and dizziness
Shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat
Some common symptoms of bleeding disorders include:
Easy or excessive bruising or bleeding
Frequent or unexplained nosebleeds
Heavy menstrual bleeding
Clotting disorders can result in clots in various places, including the brain, heart, lungs, abdomen and limbs. Some common symptoms of clotting disorders include:
Chest pain or discomfort
Shortness of breath
Swelling, tenderness and warmth in an arm or leg
Some common symptoms of leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers include:
Fatigue and weakness
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, blood disorders can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:
Bleeding that will not stop after applying pressure for several minutes
Chest pain, shortness of breath, and fast or erratic heartbeat
Dizziness, fainting, or loss of consciousness
Vision changes, weakness, facial drooping, or paralysis on one side of the body
If you develop ongoing symptoms that may indicate a blood disorder, see your doctor as soon as possible. Seeking a prompt diagnosis often offers the best chance of successful treatment.
What causes blood disorders?
Blood disorders occur when a problem develops with one or more of the components of blood. Many blood disorders are inherited. In these disorders, parents pass abnormal genes to their children. The specific genetic mutations are known for many of these conditions, such as sickle cell anemia and certain hemophilias and thrombophilias.
Acquired blood disorders have a variety of causes. You can acquire a blood disorder early or later in life. Diseases that affect the organs and tissues that support the blood, medications, and nutritional deficiencies are common causes. Genetic factors—some known, some not yet identified—can increase the risk of acquiring a blood disorder. This is especially true for blood cancers. You may inherit a defective gene or the defect may happen spontaneously, either of which make you more susceptible to developing a particular blood cancer.
What are the risk factors for blood disorders?
The factors that increase the risk of developing a blood disorder vary with the specific disease. For inherited disorders, having a family history of these disorders puts you at risk. Similarly, a strong family history of blood cancer increases your risk of developing one. Other possible risk factors for blood disorders include:
Exposure to certain drugs and chemicals
Liver, kidney or thyroid disease
Trauma, surgery and immobility
Reducing your risk of blood disorders
Lowering your risk of a disease mainly relies on changing risk factors that are under your control. For inherited blood disorders, it may not be possible to lower your risk. For other types of blood disorders, you may be able to lower your risk by:
Eating a balanced diet and using supplements as recommended by your doctor
Effectively treating chronic medical conditions
Getting regular physical exercise and maintaining a healthy weight
Understanding the potential side effects of medications or treatments and monitoring for them
Regular medical care is important for everyone. It can help catch early signs and symptoms of a problem. If you are concerned about blood disorders, talk with your doctor about your risk. Ask about ways to keep yourself healthy and know what symptoms are red flags.
How are blood disorders treated?
Treatment of blood disorders depends on the specific disease.
The first step in treating anemia is to determine the cause. Possible treatments may include vitamin and nutritional therapy, medications to increase red blood cell production, and drugs that suppress the immune system. In severe cases, blood transfusions may be necessary to quickly replenish red blood cells. A rare form of anemia—aplastic anemia—may require a bone marrow transplant or a blood stem cell transplant.
Bleeding disorder treatment
Doctors typically treat bleeding disorders with medications or transfusions of specific clotting factors. It will depend on the type of bleeding disorder.
Clotting disorder (thrombophilia) treatment
Doctors treat clotting disorders with anticoagulants and thrombolytics. Anticoagulants are commonly known as blood thinners. They do not actually thin the blood. Rather, they prevent blood clots from forming and growing. Thrombolytics are also called clot busters. They break up existing blood clots. Sometimes, a catheter-based procedure is necessary to treat blood clots.
Blood cancer treatment
What are the potential complications of blood disorders?
The prognosis and risk of complications varies greatly with the specific blood disorder. However, any problem with your blood can affect your overall health and every other tissue in your body. Your cells rely on your blood to supply fresh oxygen and carry away waste products. When blood can’t function effectively, complications will eventually develop.