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May 2024

Blood disorders: Types, causes, and treatment

Posted By Suborna Fermi Posted on May 24, 2024

Blood disorders are conditions that affect the blood’s ability to function properly. The symptoms of blood disorders depend on the type of disorder. However, most blood disorders are treatable. With proper treatment, one can get better with time. Generally, the treatment includes treating the underlying condition and managing the symptoms.

What are blood disorders?

The functions of blood in the body include:

  • Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body.
  • White blood cells protect your body from infections.
  • Platelets help the blood to clot to prevent excess blood loss.

Blood disorders are conditions that restrict your blood from doing their work. Blood disorders can be cancerous or non-cancerous. Sometimes., blood disorders can impact plasma (the liquid portion of the blood).

One may inherit a non-cancerous blood disorder or develop a blood disorder if they have any underlying condition that affects the blood’s function. Some blood disorders can be chronic or lifelong conditions but they typically would not impact your lifespan. On the other side, some disorders can be life-threatening.

How do blood disorders impact the body?

Blood disorders can affect your body in many ways, such as:

  • It may increase the risk of blood clots. An example of a blood clotting disorder is Factor V Leiden.
  • It may impact your body’s ability to form blood clots that make you lose blood more than usual.

What are the types of blood disorders?

Generally, blood disorders are considered with the names of the blood components they affect. The common types of blood disorders are mentioned below:

Blood disorders that affect the white blood cells:

The purpose of white blood cells in our body is to fight against infections. They are made in the bone marrow, and stored in the blood and lymph nodes. There are several types of white blood cells, and each of them has different functions. The major types of white blood cells are:

  • Lymphocytes kill viruses and support the immune system
  • Neutrophils destroy bacteria and viruses
  • Microphages or monocytes destroy germs
  • Eosinophils and Basophils kill parasites and help the body respond to allergic reactions

Blood disorders that affect white blood cells are either proliferative disorders or a type of cancer. Proliferative disorders cause a rapid increase in white blood cells that are circulating in the bloodstream. This condition may occur due to an infection or bone marrow cancer.

The following are the three major types of blood cancers that affect the white blood cells:

1. Lymphoma

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that develops when lymphocytes mutate and multiply rapidly. Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are the two major types of lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a more common type of cancer than Hodgkin's lymphoma.

2. Leukemia

Leukemia is a type of blood cancer where white blood cells build up inside the bone marrow. This interrupts the process of producing red blood cells and platelets. Leukemia can be either acute (which develops quickly), or chronic (which develops gradually over time).

3. Myeloma

Myeloma is a type of blood cancer where plasma cells build up inside the bone marrow. This interferes with the functions of other blood cells. Multiple myeloma is a common type of myeloma. In this condition, abnormal plasma cells form tumors in different locations of the bone marrow.

Treatment and diagnosis of these types of blood cancers:

Healthcare providers generally diagnose lymphoma, leukemia, and myeloma by using:

  • A medical history
  • Blood tests
  • Urine test
  • Imaging tests (x-ray, CT scan, MRI, and ultrasound)
  • Bone marrow biopsy
  • Lumbar puncture or spinal tap (where they collect spinal fluid for examination)

Blood cancers that do not cause any symptoms, may not require treatment. However, monitoring of the condition is essential. The treatment of severe blood cancers includes:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Targeted drug therapy
  • Stem cell transplantation

Blood disorders that affect the red blood cells:

Red blood cells, also known as erythrocytes, help transport oxygen to tissues in the body, and the tissues release carbon dioxide to the lungs to exhale. Your bone marrow produces red blood cells and releases them into the bloodstream when they are matured. They take around seven days to mature.

The following are a few types of blood disorders that impact red blood cells:

  • Anemia: This condition occurs when there is a lower count of red blood cells in the body. People with mild cases do not experience symptoms. A severe form of anemia may cause fatigue, breathlessness and pale skin.
  • Iron-deficiency anemia: Your body requires iron to produce red blood cells. Inadequate consumption of iron and blood loss because of menstrual cycles are common reasons for iron deficiency anemia.
  • Pernicious anemia or vitamin-deficiency anemia: This type of anemia occurs when your body is not getting enough vitamin B12 from the diet or fails to absorb the vitamin completely. Autoimmune conditions or weakened stomach linings may cause this type of anemia.
  • Aplastic anemia: This type of anemia occurs when the bone marrow fails to produce enough red blood cells. Typically, a range of conditions can cause this type of anemia, including hepatitis, HIV, Epstein-Barr, and pregnancy. Apart from that, the side effects of various medications, including chemotherapy may also contribute to developing aplastic anemia.
  • Hemolytic anemia: This type of anemia develops when the red blood cells are damaged faster than the bone marrow can produce them. Hemolytic anemia may arise due to autoimmune disorders and cancers.
  • Anemia of chronic disease: People with chronic kidney disease or other chronic diseases tend to develop anemia. This type of anemia generally does not require treatment.
  • Thalassemia: Thalassemia is an inherited blood condition that passes through the genes. This condition affects the body’s ability to produce red blood cells and hemogoblin.

Treatment and diagnosis of these types of blood disorders:

When the cause of anemia is not clear, the doctor may:

  • Carry out a physical examination
  • Review family medical history
  • Order certain blood tests, such as a complete blood count, peripheral blood smear, and reticulocyte count
  • Do a bone marrow biopsy

The treatment of these types of blood disorders includes:

  • Blood transfusions
  • Medications that stimulate the production of red blood cells
  • Dietary changes
  • Surgery

What are the symptoms of blood disorders?

The symptoms may depend on the type and severity of the blood disorders. However, people with a blood disorder experience a general feeling of being unwell. The symptoms of white blood cell disorders include:

  • Frequent infections
  • Wounds that do not heal or take a lot of time to heal
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Tiredness

Symptoms of red blood cell disorders include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Breathlessness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Paleness
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Feeling faint or dizzy when standing up quickly
  • Tingling or numbness sensations in hands or feet

Symptoms of platelet or blood clotting disorder include:

  • Difficulty in forming blood clots at wounds to prevent excess bleeding
  • Wounds or injuries that are slow to heal
  • Unexplained bruising
  • Unexplained bleeding from the gum, nose, urogenital system, and gastrointestinal system

Blood disorders can affect different components of blood. The symptoms may depend on the type and severity of the condition. However, a person with a blood disorder usually experiences extreme fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell without any specific reason. The treatment of blood disorders also depends on the type and severity of the disorder.