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Red Blood Cell Disorders

Red Blood Cell Disorders

Hematology & Red Blood Cell Disorder Treatment

Red Blood Cell Disorders

While there are many different types, below are some of the more commonly seen red blood cell disorders.


Anemia occurs when your body is not producing enough red blood cells or when the red blood cells are not properly functioning. When a problem with red blood cell production or function occurs, the body does not get the oxygen that it needs which could cause one or more of the following symptoms.

  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Pounding or “whooshing” in your ears
  • Headache
  • Cold hands or feet
  • Pale or yellow skin
  • Chest pain

Chronic disease, infections, poor diet, and intestinal disorders are all common causes of anemia. The risk of anemia increases with age and with activity. People who run or engage in other strenuous sports or activities have a greater chance for developing anemia due to their blood cells breaking down. People with one or more of the following chronic conditions are also at a greater risk for developing anemia:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer
  • Liver Disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis)

Treatment for anemia varies according to the type of anemia. Talk with your healthcare provider if you think you are at risk for anemia or experienced any of the listed symptoms.

Sickle cell Anemia

Sickle cell anemia is the most common type of inherited blood disorders. Healthy blood cells are fluid in shape so they can easily pass through the small blood vessels in the body. In people with sickle cell, their red blood cells are shaped like a half moon (or a sickle), so they have difficulty flowing into the small blood vessels and often get blocked. The lack of blood flow can cause pain, infection, and problems with organs not receiving the adequate amount of blood.


Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder in which the body makes an abnormal form of hemoglobin which results in large numbers of red blood cells being destroyed, which leads to anemia. A blood test is used to diagnose thalassemia and during a physical exam, the doctor will often look for an enlarged spleen, which is often a symptom. Other symptoms of thalassemia include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Yellow skin (jaundice)
  • Bone deformities in the face
  • Growth failure

Treatment for thalassemia often involves regular blood transfusions and folate supplements. Bone marrow transplants are often used to treat the disease, especially in children.


Erythrocytosis is a rare inherited blood disorder where the body produces too many red blood cells. The excess red blood cells increase the risk for blood clots which could prevent blood flow to major organs such as the heart, lungs, or brain. While the prevalence of erythrocytosis is unknown, researchers found the cause of one type to be genetic mutations involving one or more genes. There are two types of erythrocytosis. Familial erythrocytosis is where a person inherits the disorder, and non-familial erythrocytosis is where a person acquires the disease later in life. Non-familial erythrocystosis can be caused from long term exposure to high altitude, chronic lung or heart disease, sleep apnea, chronic smoking, or certain types of tumors. Symptoms of erythrocystosis include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nosebleeds
  • Shortness of breath

Erythrocytosis can sometimes lead to other more serious conditions such as polycythemia vera. Polycythemia vera is a genetically acquired blood cancer in which your body makes too many blood cells. It is a slow growing type of blood cancer, but if left untreated, it can result in a more serious type of cancer such as leukemia. Treatment for erythrocytosis will vary according to the severity or progression of the disorder. Treatments may include a phlebotomy (withdrawing blood to decrease the volume), a low-dose aspirin regimen, or medications to decrease blood cells.

Red Blood Cell Disorders  |  White Blood Cell Disorders  |  Platelet Disorders

Bleeding Disorders  |  Blood Clotting Disorders

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