What are blood disorders?
Hematologic (blood) disorders are blood conditions that prevent your blood cells and platelets from carrying out their intended job. They are not caused by uncontrolled cell growth, like blood cancers, but they do require careful and serious medical attention.
Some benign (noncancerous) blood disorders are hereditary and lifelong conditions that require ongoing treatment to prevent life-threatening symptoms. Others are commonly related to other medical conditions and easily managed with medication and/or lifestyle changes. At MedStar Health, our board-certified hematologists treat a full range of common and rare blood disorders affecting people of all ages, including children and young adults. Some of the blood conditions we treat include:
- Bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia, von Willebrand Disease, and idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)
- Blood clotting disorders, including thrombophilia and more
- Red blood cell disorders (anemias), such as iron-deficiency anemia, sickle cell disease, thalassemia, and others
- White blood cell disorders, including leukocytosis
- Platelet disorders, like thrombocytopenia and thrombocytosis
Symptoms and risk factors
What are the common symptoms of a blood disorder?
Signs of a blood disorder will vary based on the type and severity of your condition. For example:
- Signs of anemia may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin
- Common symptoms or hemophilia and other bleeding disorders include:
- Spontaneous or bleeding
- Lots of deep or big bruises
- Unexplained bruising, bleeding, or nosebleeds
- Blood in stool or urine (hematuria)
- Swelling, pain, and tightness in joints (caused by internal bleeding)
- Bleeding for a long time from cuts, after surgery, or having a tooth out
- Sudden swelling, pain, and warmth in shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, or arm and leg muscles
- Heavy bleeding during menstruation
- Very painful headache that lasts a long time
- Double vision
- Easily exhaustible
- Neck pain
- Signs of blood clotting disorders may include:
- Swelling and pain in legs and other extremities caused by deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
- Chest pain, difficulty breathing, or accelerated heart rate, which may indicate a pulmonary embolism
- Heart attack or stroke
In some cases, a blood disorder can be life-threatening, so it's important to seek prompt medical care if you have any symptoms.
Who is at risk for developing a blood disorder?
Anyone can develop a blood disorder. However, certain types of blood disorders are linked to specific risk factors. For example, sickle cell disease is primarily an inherited medical condition passed down from parent to child. As a result, you may have a higher risk of developing a blood disorder if someone in your family also has the disease.
Other types of blood disorders can be caused by related medical conditions, which means you may have an increased risk if you also have one or more of the following:
- Bowel disease
- Immune disorders, including autoimmune diseases such as lupus
- Kidney disease
Screening and prevention
Can you prevent blood disorders?
Inherited blood disorders cannot be prevented, as you can't change your genetic makeup. However, it may be possible to lower your risk of other acquired blood conditions by:
- Eating a well-balanced diet
- Taking supplements as recommended by your healthcare provider
- Managing chronic medical conditions
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Monitoring the side effects of certain medications
- Discussing your risk of blood conditions regularly with your doctor
Hematologists are doctors specializing in diagnosing and treating problems related to your blood. If you have signs of a blood condition, your doctor will ask you questions about your personal and family medical history as well as your symptoms. Depending on your condition, your doctor may also order specific tests to learn more about your diagnosis. These may include:
- Blood tests, such as evaluating your complete blood count (CBC), how quickly your blood clots, specific clotting factors, and more
- Imaging tests, including ultrasound of the arm or legs or computerized tomography (CT) scans of the chest to look for clots
- Specific procedures, such as a pelvic exam, colonoscopy, or biopsy, which may help to determine the cause of excessive bleeding
Types of benign blood disorders
Blood disorders involve problems with your red or white blood cells, platelets, or plasma. These can cause excessive bleeding or increase your risk of too much blood clotting, depending on the condition.
Bleeding disorders are a group of conditions that occur when the blood cannot clot properly, resulting in too much bleeding. Some of these conditions are hereditary, passed down from one generation to the next. Others may be acquired because of a virus, autoimmune disorder, infection, age, or other factor. The treatment of bleeding disorders depends on the type and severity of the hemophilia or bleeding disorder. In some mild cases, a hormone injection can help the body make more of the necessary clotting factors. In more serious cases, an infusion of clotting factor, usually from donated blood, is necessary to stop bleeding. Regular, preventative infusions of clotting factor may also be needed.
At MedStar Health, we treat patients of all ages with bleeding disorders, such as:
- Hemophilia, which occurs when the blood is not able to clot and stop bleeding as quickly as it should. Many types of hemophilia exist, each caused when a specific clotting factor can't do its job.
- Von Willebrand disease, which is one of the most common bleeding conditions in the country. Like hemophilia, it's a genetic disorder that affects your body's ability to form blood clots and causes you to bleed more than usual.
- Immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), a condition wherein platelet- (thrombocyte-) count is low, making it difficult for blood to clot and causing bruising. Two kinds exist:
- Acute immune thrombocytopenic purpura, which usually occurs in children after a virus, and generally goes away on its own after about six months.
- Chronic immune thrombocytopenic purpura, which usually occurs in adults, and lasts more than six months.
Blood clotting disorders
Blood clotting disorders (coagulation disorders or thrombophilias) develop when the body has difficulty controlling blood clots. This can cause your blood to not clot enough or cause too much clotting (hypercoagulation or thrombosis). When this causes too much clotting, blood clots can travel to other parts of the body, which can lead to serious health problems. For example, blood clots that travel to the legs can cause deep vein thrombosis, while blood clots in the lung can lead to a pulmonary embolism. If blood clots form in the arteries, this can potentially cause heart attack or stroke. Our experienced hematologists treat all types of these disorders, including:
- Factor V Leiden mutation, an inherited condition that increases your risk of blood clots
- Prothrombin gene mutation, another inherited disorder that increases the risk of clotting
- Deficiencies in blood clotting proteins (protein C, protein S, or antithrombin)
- Hyperhomocysteinemia, or increased homocysteine levels that can increase the chances of blood clots
- Sticky platelet syndrome, disordered platelet function associated with blood clots
- Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), an autoimmune disorder that causes abnormal blood clots
- Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a rare condition often caused by infection or injury
Red and white blood cell disorders
Bone marrow consists of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, which are essential for transporting oxygen throughout the body, fighting infection, and helping blood to clot properly. Blood cell disorders affect the function of one or more of these and may include:
- Anemia, a condition wherein the body does not produce enough red blood cells. There are several types of this disorder, including:
- Iron-deficiency anemia, a common, acquired condition
- Sickle cell anemia, which is caused by an inherited disorder that causes red blood cells to form a "sickle" or crescent shape, which can block blood flow
- Aplastic anemia, which prevents your bone marrow from making enough new blood cells
- Pernicious anemia, an autoimmune disease that prevents your body from absorbing enough vitamin B-12
- Thalassemia, an inherited red blood cell disorder that affects hemoglobin production
- Myelodysplastic syndromes, which affect the bone marrow and its capacity to make different blood component (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets)
- Polycythemia vera, which results from the overproduction of blood components
How are blood disorders treated?
If you have a blood disorder, treatment will vary based on the type of disorder you have and its severity. At MedStar Health, your treatment team may involve hematologists and other specialists who can help address the root cause of your disordered bleeding. Depending on your condition, treatment may include:
- Medication: There are many different kinds of medications that can help to manage bleeding, clotting, and other blood-related dysfunction:
- Anemia may require medication or vitamin supplementation, depending on the cause
- Bleeding disorders may be treated with medications that replace or increase specific clotting factors
- Clotting disorders may be treated with anticoagulants, or blood thinners, that prevent blood clots from forming and spreading
- Blood or platelet transfusions: Some people with blood disorders may benefit from blood transfusions that boost red blood cell levels or use platelet transfusions to help with clotting.
- Growth factor replacement therapy: Certain conditions, such as hemophilia, may require prophylactic or on-demand injections of donated or genetically-engineered clotting factors
Looking for expert care?
With multiple locations throughout the region, patients have access to many of the nation’s renowned cancer specialists offering high-quality care, second opinions, and a chance for better outcomes close to where they live and work. Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the nation’s comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), serves as the research engine allowing patients access to clinical trials that often lead to breakthroughs in cancer care.
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Jun Frank Sun, MD
Hematology & Medical Oncology
Mahsa Mohebtash, MD
Hematology, Breast Medical Oncology & Medical Oncology
Shweta Kurian, MD
Hematology Oncology & Medical Oncology
Catherine M. Broome, MD
Benign Hematology & Hematology
Kamyar Nader, MD
Myeloma, Lymphoma, Leukemia, Hematology & Hematologic Malignancy
Aarthi Ganesh Shenoy, MD
Craig Martin Kessler, MD
Benign Hematology & Hematology
Hedy P. Smith, MD,PhD
Pedro E Alcedo Andrade, MD
Ravi Krishnan Anandakrishnan, MD
Hira Latif, MD
Julia Cunningham, MD
Benign Hematology & Hematology Oncology
Salem Kim, MD
Kevin Y. Chen, MD
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3800 Reservoir Rd. NW Washington, DC 20007
9103 Franklin Square Dr. The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Cancer Institute Suite 220 Baltimore, MD 21237
110 Irving Street, NW Washington, D.C., 20010
5601 Loch Raven Blvd. Russell Morgan Building First Floor Baltimore, MD 21239
12 MedStar Blvd. Ste. 180 Bel Air, MD 21015
Why choose us
If you seek care for a benign blood disorder at MedStar Health, you'll benefit from:
- Multidisciplinary care involving specialized experts: Our renowned blood doctors (hematologists) collaborate with other specialists in gynecology, colorectal surgery, cardiology, and others to address the root of your bleeding problem.
- State-of-the-art treatments: We offer the complete range of FDA-approved therapies, as well as innovative approaches to bloodless medicine, blood transfusions, and stem cell transplantation, based on your unique needs.
- Expertise in pediatric blood disorders: We're experienced in treating patients of all ages, including kids, adolescents, and young adults living with sickle cell disease, hemophilia, and other blood-related conditions.
- Federal designation as a Hemophilia Treatment Center (HTC): Research shows that people with noncancerous blood disorders who seek comprehensive care from an HTC are less likely to experience serious complications or death than those who do not.
- Convenient, coordinated care: With dozens of locations throughout the Maryland and Washington, D.C., region, we offer expert care for blood disorders close to where you live and work.
Clinical trials and research
Clinical trials are studies that help blood doctors and researchers better understand different diseases and disorders, including the effectiveness of medications and therapies to prevent or reduce the severity of bleeding episodes.
Through our research engine, Georgetown Lombardi's Comprehensive Cancer Center, we're proud to apply the latest advances in research, ensuring our patients receive the most up-to-date, evidence-based care available.