Managing Blood Diseases
Did you know that around 8% of your body weight is made up of blood? Blood, which forms in the bone marrow, is made of up of Plasma, Red Blood Cells (RBC) or Erythrocytes that carry Oxygen, White Blood Cells (WBC) or leukocytes that fight infections and Platelets or Thrombocytes that help in clotting.
Blood keeps every single organ in your body working and performs three crucial functions:
- Transporting nutrients, hormones, oxygen and heat throughout the body
- Regulating body’s water, electrolyte and acidity levels
- Protecting against diseases and fighting infections
A Haematologist can help manage benign or non-cancerous conditions of the blood effectively with medications and if required, blood / blood component transfusion.
Some of the common benign blood disorders include:
- Anaemia due to an underlying health problem
- Iron deficiency anaemia
- Low blood counts – red / white cell count, or platelet count - due to a drug reaction
- Sickle Cell anaemia – a condition that causes the red blood cells to become hard, sticky and sickle-shaped instead of round.
- Autoimmune haemolytic anaemia, which is an immune-mediated disease that leads to low red blood cell count
- Thalassemia (mild) – an inherited, genetic blood disorder that causes anaemia
- Haemophilia (mild) – an inherited genetic disorder that impairs the body’s ability to produce blood clots to stop bleeding
- Blood clotting disorders, wherein there is tendency for the blood to clot when it should not. Uncontrolled blood clotting or thrombosis life-threatening and requires medical attention. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism are the main two complications associated to blood clotting disorders.
- ITP or Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, which is an immune-mediated disease that leads to low platelet count.
- Thrombocythemia, a condition in which the body’s bone marrow produces more platelets than required.
- Myelodysplastic syndrome that’s characterised by excessive production of blood cells in the bone marrow.
Symptoms of benign blood diseases:
- Extreme fatigue
- Red spots on the skin
- Yellow / pale skin
- Loss of concentration
- Noise in the ear
- Fast heartbeat
- Excessive bruising
- Nose / gum/ mouth bleeds.
- Blood in urine or stool
- Repeated infections
Blood Cancers Or Haematological Cancers
In most blood cancers, development of normal blood cells get disrupted or altered by the uncontrolled growth of an abnormal type of blood cell. These abnormal blood cells or cancerous cells prevent the blood from performing its functions, including clotting.
Since blood cancers affect the production and functioning of blood cells, the malignancy starts in your bone marrow where blood form as stem cells.
There are three main types of blood cancers:,/p>
Leukaemia is a type of cancer found the blood and bone marrow that’s caused by rapid production of abnormal white blood cells. Since too much abnormal white blood cells cannot fight infection, they impair the ability of the bone marrow to produce red blood cells and platelets.
Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system, in which abnormal lymphocytes become lymphoma cells that multiply and collect in the lymph nodes and other tissues. These cancerous cells impair the immune system across time. E.g. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – a cancerous condition that affects the lymph nodes.
Myeloma is a cancerous condition of the plasma cells or white blood cells that produce infection-fighting antibodies in the body. Myeloma cells prevent production of antibodies, leaving the body’s immune system weakened and extremely susceptible to infections.
Some of the symptoms of blood cancer include:
- Extreme weakness and fatigue
- Frequent infections
- Persistent fever and chills
- Cough that won’t go away
- Itchy skin / rashes
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen, painless lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin
- Night sweats
Blood cancers are detected through specific tests, bone marrow examination and diagnostic imaging. Treatment for blood cancers include stem cell or bone marrow transplantation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, transfusion and medication, depending on the stage and severity of the cancer and overall health condition of the patient.
Remember, symptoms are body’s way of saying that something is wrong. Never ignore any signs even if it’s something as “ordinary” as fatigue or gum bleeding. And yes, never let fear of cancer prevent early diagnosis and possible cure.