What types of blood disorders are there?

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Jennifer Huizen  
by Elaine K. Luo, MD
is a blood disorder? | White blood cell disorders | Red blood cell disorders | Platelet cell disorders | Signs of a blood
disorder  | Takeaway.
Blood disorders are conditions
that impact the blood’s ability to function correctly. There is a range of
different types and symptoms depend on the type. However, some common symptoms
include unexplained fatigue and weight loss.
Most blood disorders decrease
the number of cells, proteins, platelets, or nutrients in the blood, or
interfere with their function. A majority of blood disorders are caused by
mutations in parts of specific genes and can be passed down in families.
Some medical conditions,
medications, and lifestyle factors can also cause blood disorders to develop.
is a blood disorder?
A blood disorder is any
condition that impacts one or more parts of the blood, usually interfering with
its ability to work correctly.
Many blood disorders take
their name from the component of the blood they impact.
The following categories
describe blood disorders that cause a decrease in blood components or affect
their function:

  • anemia – if the disorder
    involves red blood cells
  • leukopenia – if the disorder
    affects white blood cells
  • thrombocytopenia – if the
    disorder concerns platelets
Categories of blood disorders
that increase blood components are:

  • erythrocytosis – if the
    disorder involves red blood cells
  • leukocytosis – if the disorder
    affects white blood cells
  • thrombocythemia or
    thrombocytosis – if the disorder concerns platelets
of white blood cell disorders

White blood cells help the
body to fight infection. They begin life in the bone marrow and develop into
different types of cells, each having a different immune purpose.
major types are:

  • neutrophils, which destroy
    bacteria and viruses
  • lymphocytes, which kill
    viruses and regulate the immune system
  • monocytes or macrophages,
    which eat dead or deactivated bacteria, viruses, and fungus
  • basophils and eosinophils,
    which help the body respond to allergic reactions and help destroy parasites
Some white blood cell
disorders impact all the different types of white blood cells in the blood,
while other disorders only involve one or two specific types. Of the five types
of white blood cells, neutrophils and lymphocytes get impacted the most.
Most white blood cell
disorders are either a type of cancer or proliferative disorders.
Proliferative disorders
involve a rapid increase in the number of white blood cells that are
circulating in the blood. This mostly occurs because of an infection, although,
occasionally, bone marrow cancers may be responsible.
Leukopenia, however, is due to
a reduction in the amount of circulating white blood cells. Leukopenia usually
occurs because of:
  • illness
  • infection
  • toxin exposure
  • certain medications, such as
    corticosteroids or chemotherapy medications
  • genetic mutations
There are three major types of
blood cancer that impact white blood cells, and they include the following:
Lymphoma is a type of cancer
that occurs when lymphocytes change and multiply rapidly. There are two major
types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
According to the American
Cancer Society, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is one of the more common types of cancer
in the United States, accounting for 4 percent of all cancers. An estimated
74,680 diagnoses will take place in the U.S. in 2018. 70 percent of people
diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma live at least 5 years after being
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is far
rarer than non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Again, according to the American Cancer
Society, around 8,500 people in the U.S. had the condition in 2018. Of those
people diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, 86 percent will live at least 5
Leukemias involve the build-up
of abnormal white blood cells in the bone marrow, which interferes with its
ability to produce red blood cells and platelets. Leukemias can be acute and
develop quickly, or chronic and develop more gradually over time.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma
Society estimate that 60,300 people will receive a leukemia diagnosis in 2018.
Between 2007 and 2017, an estimated 63.7 percent of Americans diagnosed with
leukemia lived for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.
Myelomas involve the build-up
of plasma cells in the bone marrow, which interferes with the development and
function of other blood cells. The most common type of myeloma is multiple
myeloma, where abnormal plasma cells build-up or form a tumor in numerous
locations in the bone or marrow.
From 2008-2014, around 50.7
percent of people with myeloma lived for at least 5 years after being
diagnosed, according to the National Cancer Institute. Overall, myelomas are
quite rare. In 2018, myelomas represented only 1.8 percent of all
newly-diagnosed cancer cases.
and diagnosis
A doctor usually diagnoses
leukemias, lymphomas, and myelomas using:

  • a medical exam and a complete
    medical history
  • blood tests
  • urine tests
  • bone marrow aspiration and
  • lumbar puncture (spinal tap),
    where doctors collect spinal fluid for examination
  • imaging tests, such as X-ray,
    CT, or PET scans, MRI, and ultrasound
Blood cell cancers that do not
yet cause symptoms may not require treatment aside from monitoring. Doctors
usually treat people with aggressive or active blood cancers using some mix of:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • surgery
  • targeted drug therapy, which
    are medications that help increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs or
    destroy elements of the cancer cells that chemotherapy drugs do not
  • stem cell transplants, which
    involve infusions containing bone marrow cells that are capable of forming
    blood cells to replenish destroyed cells
of red blood cell disorders
Anemias, where there are not
enough red blood cells or the cells do not work correctly, are among the most
common blood disorders. According to the American Society of Hematology, anemia
affects more than 3 million Americans.
The most common types are:

  • iron-deficiency anemias — when
    the body does not have enough iron or cannot properly absorb it
  • pregnancy anemia — when there
    is more of a demand for red blood cells than normal
  • vitamin-deficiency anemias —
    usually caused by low dietary intake of vitamin B-12 and folate
  • non-inherited hemolytic
    anemias — where red blood cells are broken and destroyed in the bloodstream
    abnormally, either by injury, illness, or medications
  • inherited hemolytic anemias —
    where red blood cells are broken down or destroyed more quickly than the body
    can replace them
  • aplastic anemias — when the
    bone marrow stop producing enough blood cells
and diagnosis
If the cause of anemia is not
apparent, such as injury or infection, or to assess anemia, a doctor will:

  • do a physical exam
  • review individual and family
    medical history
  • carry out blood tests, such as
    complete blood counts, reticulocyte count, and peripheral blood smear
  • do bone marrow aspiration and
Treatment depends on the cause
but commonly includes:

  • blood transfusions
  • dietary changes
  • surgery
  • medications that stimulate the
    production of bone marrow and new red blood cells
of platelet cell disorders

platelet disorders include:
Hemophilia is a genetic
condition caused by a lack of or defective clotting factors in a person’s
blood. People with hemophilia bleed longer or more excessively, both externally
and internally than people without the condition.
Hemophilia is often passed
down from parents to their children, but the National Hemophilia Foundation
estimate that approximately one-third of cases develop spontaneously.
Hemophilia is one of the better-known blood conditions, but it is still quite
rare, developing in an estimated 1 in 5,000 live births.
Willebrand disease
This disease occurs when the
body lacks the von Willebrand factor (VWF), a substance that allows platelets
to stick together and form clots. Most cases of von Willebrand are relatively
mild, and people may only require treatment if they are injured or undergo
While many platelet disorders
involve a reduction in the number of platelets present in the blood or their
function, several conditions can cause an excess of platelets.
and diagnosis
To diagnose and assess
platelet conditions, most doctors will carry out:

  • a physical exam
  • a review of individual and
    family medical history
  • blood tests
Treating blood clotting
disorders typically involves replacement therapy, where the doctor gives a
person infusions containing the specific clotting factors they are lacking.
Additional therapies include:
  • desmopressin — a synthetic
    hormone that promotes the release of von Willebrand factor and factor VIII
  • antifibrinolytic medications —
    that help prevent blood clots from breaking down
  • birth control medications — to
    reduce heavy menstrual cycles
Additional treatment options

  • blood transfusions
  • corticosteroids to slow
    platelet destruction
  • immunoglobulins to block the
    immune system
  • surgery to remove the spleen
    in severe cases
of a blood disorder
Symptoms depend on what part
of the blood or organs is affected, as well as the severity and extent of the
However, the majority of
people with significant blood disorders tend to experience a general feeling of
being unwell for no apparent reason.
Signs of white blood cell
disorders include:

  • frequent infections
  • wounds that do not heal or are
    slow to heal
  • unexplained exhaustion
  • unexplained weight loss
Signs of red blood cell
disorders include:

  • unexplained exhaustion
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • rapid heartbeat
  • muscle weakness
  • difficulty concentrating and
  • paleness
Signs of platelet and clotting
disorders include:

  • difficulty forming blood clots
    at wounds or controlling bleeding
  • injuries that are slow to heal
    or keep re-opening
  • unexplainable bruising or skin
    that easily bruises
  • unexplainable bleeding from
    the nose, gums, gastrointestinal system, or urogenital system

Many blood disorders can
affect different components of the blood, including the white blood cells, red
blood cells, and plasma.
Symptoms vary according to the
type of blood disorder a person has, but most include general feelings of being
unwell with no apparent cause, unexplained exhaustion, and unexplained weight
Treatments vary depending on
the type and severity of the condition but will often include chemotherapy or
radiation therapy.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.