Hematology is a branch of medicine concerned with the study of blood, blood disease and the organs involved in forming blood. The diagnosis and treatment of hematological disorders is mainly managed by specialists in the field referred to as hematologists. Some of the conditions treated by hematologists are described below.
Iron deficiency anemia
Anemia is defined as a reduced amount of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood, which can lead to a shortage in the amount of oxygen that is carried to various parts of the body. This can lead to symptoms such as a pale appearance, weakness, fatigue, and breathlessness. In the case of iron deficiency anemia, inadequate amounts of hemoglobin (oxygen carrying compounds) are found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin contains one iron molecule at its core and if this iron is missing, red blood cells appear pale and small when viewed under the microscope.
Treatment to correct iron deficiency anemia involves the use of iron tablets or in severe cases, iron compound injections. Pregnant women are at an increased risk of iron deficiency anemia and may be prescribed iron pills during their pregnancy to meet the demands of the growing fetus.
Anemia can also be caused by excessive blood loss or certain diseases breaking down the red blood cells and hemoglobin (hemolytic anemias).
These are conditions caused by genetic defects that give rise to abnormalities in the globin chains inside a hemoglobin molecule. Examples of hemoglobinopathies include sickle cell disease and thalassemia.
Platelet and bleeding disorders
Examples of platelet and bleeding disorders that may be treated by hematologists include idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), thrombocytopenic purpura, hemophilia and Von Willebrand disease. Treatment involves the use of engineered coagulation factor medications and blood transfusions.
- Cancers and bone marrow disorders are also treated by hematologists and examples include leukemia, lymphoma, myelodysplastic syndrome, multiple myeloma and myelofibrosis.
- Hematologists manage the blood transfusions that may be required in various different conditions including major blood loss due to trauma. Bone marrow stem cell transplantation is also managed by hematologists.
Some examples of the different treatments that may be used in hematological disorders include:
- Diet changes.
- Oral iron preparations that may be taken as tablets or liquids.
- Blood disorders such as megaloblastic anemia are treated with Vitamin B12 injections and folic acid pills.
- Anticoagulation therapy to prevent excess blood coagulation
- Therapeutic blood-letting is applied in rare cases of polycythemia or iron overload. One drug that is commonly used for iron overload is desferrioxamine.
- Various blood cancer chemotherapies are provided under the care of hematologists.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc