Blood Diseases: Types, Symptoms, and Causes
What are blood diseases?
Blood diseases are a group of conditions in which certain disorders affect your blood cells, thus causing them to function below the optimal level.
There are three kinds of blood cells in the body: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets (which play a critical role in clot formation). All three blood cells are created in the bone marrow. Your bone marrow is a soft tissue that lies inside your bones.
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin which has a high affinity for oxygen. So, by default, red blood cells are responsible for the transportation of oxygen to the organs and tissues of your body. White blood cells are immune cells. They help to fight infections.
Finally, platelets are involved in blood clotting. Disorders of blood cells impair these cells’ formation and affect their function.
What are the symptoms of blood diseases?
The symptoms of blood diseases vary depending on the type of disease. Common symptoms include:
- A fast heartbeat
- Muscle weakness
- Inability to concentrate due to low supply of oxygenated blood to the brain
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms that are peculiar to white blood cells disorders include:
- Chronic infections
- Unexplained weight loss
Symptoms including: indicate platelet disorders
- Easily bruised skin
- Sores or cuts that fail to heal or are slow to heal
- Blood that refuses to clot after an amount or injury
- Unexplained bleeding from the nose or gums
It is important to note that many kinds of blood diseases can impact one’s health.
Disorders of the red blood cell
As the name implies, red blood cell disorders affect red blood cells. Your red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your body. There are several types of red blood cell disorders. It is important to note that these disorders affect both adults and children.
Anemia is a common type of red blood cell disorder. It is caused by a lack of iron in the blood. Iron is vital for the production of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin helps transport oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your body. There are several kinds of anemia.
- Iron deficiency anemia: This kind of anemia is caused by a lack of iron in the body. The affected person may feel short of breath and tired because there aren’t enough red blood cells to transport oxygen to your lungs. Iron deficiency anemia is usually cured by iron supplementation.
- Pernicious anemia: Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune condition. It is characterized by an inability of the body to absorb vitamin B-12 in sufficient amounts. The tag “pernicious” is assigned to this kind of anemia because it was formerly untreatable and, in most cases, fatal. Currently, it can be cured by B-12 injections.
- Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AHA): AHA triggers the destruction of red blood cells by your immune system. What’s more, the immune system destroys these red blood cells faster than your body can replace them. The result is low red blood cell count.
- Aplastic anemia: It is a rare but severe condition. In aplastic anemia, the bone marrow stops making new blood cells. Aplastic anemia can occur slowly or suddenly and can occur at any age. Aplastic anemia causes tiredness and weakens your immune system such that it cannot fight off infections. It also results in uncontrolled bleeding.
- Sickle cell anemia: The term sickle cell anemia is drawn from the unusual sickle shape of the affected red blood cells. The abnormal form of the hemoglobin molecules in sickle cells patients is due to a genetic mutation. As a result, these sickle-shaped cells cannot carry as much oxygen to your tissues as they should. They may also stick in your blood vessels, impeding blood flow to your organs.
Thalassemia is a group of inherited disorders. They are caused by genetic mutations that prevent the average production of hemoglobin. When red blood cells do not have sufficient hemoglobin, oxygen fails to get to all body parts. The organs do not function as they should. The result may be:
Polycythemia is a cancer of the blood caused by a gene mutation. A person that has polycythemia makes too many red blood cells. As a result, the bone marrow of such people produces red blood cells in excess. This causes a thickening of the blood, and it flows more slowly, putting the person at risk for blood clots. This can cause strokes or heart attacks. There is no known cure for polycythemia vera. Treatment may involve phlebotomy or removal of blood from the veins and medication.
Disorders of white blood cells
White blood cells (also known as leukocytes) defend your body against foreign substances and infection. Disorders of the white blood cells can alter your immune response and your body’s ability to fight infection. These disorders affect both children and adults.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the blood that occurs in the lymphatic system. In lymphoma, your white blood cells grow uncontrollably. There are two types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Leukemia is a blood cancer characterized by the multiplication of malignant white blood cells inside the bone marrow. There are two types of leukemia: acute or chronic. Chronic leukemia advances slowly compared to acute leukemia.
Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)
Myelodysplastic syndrome is a condition that affects the white blood cells in your bone marrow. As a result, the body produces a lot of immature cells. These immature cells are known as blasts. The cells multiply and overtake the mature cells.
MDS may progress fast or slowly. In some cases, MDS may lead to leukemia.
Disorders of the platelets
Blood platelets are usually at the frontline when you have a cut. They rush to the injury site and create a plug to stop the bleeding. Any of the following disorders may occur in a platelet disorder:
- Insufficient platelets
- Too many platelets
- Platelets that don’t clot properly
It is important to note that platelet disorders are typically genetic. This means that they are inherited. Some platelet disorders include:
Plasma cell disorders
Plasma cells are affected by a variety of disorders. Plasma cells are white blood cells that create antibodies. These cells play a vital role in warding off disease and infection.
Plasma cell myeloma
Plasma cell myeloma is a rare type of blood cancer. It develops in the bone marrow. Malignant plasma cells pile up in the bone marrow and form plasmacytoma. Plasmacytomas are tumors formed generally in the ribs, hips, or spine. These abnormal plasma cells produce monoclonal proteins (abnormal antibodies). These proteins accumulate in the bone marrow and crowd out the healthy proteins. This can cause thickening of the blood and kidney damage. Medical science is yet to discover the cause of plasma cell myeloma.
Diagnosing blood cell disorders
Your healthcare provider may order a couple of tests, including a complete blood count (CBC). The aim is to see the number of each type of blood cell in your body. In addition, a bone marrow biopsy may be ordered to see if your bone marrow is producing any abnormal cells.
How are blood diseases treated?
Treatment depends on the primary cause of your illness, your general health status, and your age.
Examples of medications that may be prescribed include romiplostim. It stimulates the production of more platelets by the red bone marrow. In addition, antibiotics may be prescribed for white blood cells disorders. These antibiotics help to fight off infections. Vitamin B-9, B-12, and iron may also be given to treat anemia. Vitamin B-9 and B-12 are also known as folate and cobalamin, respectively.
A damaged marrow may be replaced or repaired by a transplant. A bone marrow transplant involves transferring stem cells, typically from a donor, to your body to help produce normal blood cells. A blood transfusion consists of the infusion of healthy blood into a sick person. The blood is usually obtained from a healthy donor.
Both bone marrow transplants and transfusion require specific criteria to succeed. The bone marrow donor must match the recipient’s genetic profile. For transfusions, you’ll need a donor whose blood type is compatible with yours.
Ifiokobong Ene is a Medical Physiologist, and a freelance medical writer. Ifiok brings his years of medical research experience to help consistently create high-quality, and engaging articles and products that uphold the highest medical standards. He is dedicated to making health and wellness information available, actionable, and understandable so that readers can make the best decisions about their health.