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Pediatric Hematology

Pediatric hematology researches, diagnoses and treats children with diseases that affect the blood, such as certain cancers. Physicians who specialize in this field are known as pediatric hematologists.

What pediatric hematologists do

Just as children's bodies are different from adults' bodies, child patients require a different approach in the treatment of blood disorders. A pediatric hematologist has gone through extensive education in the causes (etiology), diagnosis, treatment, prognosis and prevention of childhood blood diseases.

The role of a hematologist varies by patient, and many pediatric hematologists have also pursued additional education in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer (oncology). A blood disease may affect the blood and the components of the blood, including hemoglobin, blood cells, blood protein and blood coagulation. Blood disorders can affect all components: white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.

Types of blood disorders

If your child's pediatrician has referred you to a hematologist for testing, this doctor will first take a blood sample and complete a series of tests to decide where irregularities in the blood are present. The hematologist will discuss the results of the blood tests, and if the blood is abnormal, he or she will discuss treatment options with you and your child. A pediatric hematologist has been specially trained in working with children who may be facing a life-threatening disease.

Pediatric hematologists treat children of all ages, from newborns to young adults. Some of the well-known blood disorders that afflict children include sickle-cell disease, AIDS, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, lymphoma, leukemia, infectious mononucleosis, malaria and anemia.

They also treat bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia, which occur from an abnormal number of platelets. Blood clots develop when the body produces too many platelets, and when not enough platelets are present, excess bleeding can result, both externally and internally.

The most common blood diseases due to abnormal levels of platelets are anemia and lymphocytopenia. Anemia results from a low number of white blood cells, which leads to an insufficient amount of oxygen in various body tissues. When lymphocytes (a special type of white blood cell) become too low, the result is a lowered immune response to infection.

Depending on the child and the specified blood disorder, a hematologist may recommend such treatments as a simple change in diet, blood transfusion, oral medication, radiation, chemotherapy or bone marrow transplant, as well as a variety of other treatment options.

How to find a pediatric hematologist

Hematologists treat children in private practices, group practices and hospitals. Some hematologists specialize strictly in research, so it's important that you find a pediatric hematologist who focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of children. Pediatric hematologists have experience examining, talking to and treating children in a fashion that makes the child relaxed and cooperative. Your chosen hematologist should have an office that is designed with children in mind.

If your child's pediatrician has suggested that you make an appointment with a pediatric hematologist, ask for a recommendation and referral. Call your health insurance provider or visit the health insurance company website to find a list of pediatric hematologists accepted by the insurance company's plan. If the hematologist recommended by your pediatrician is not covered by your insurance company, search their database for several approved hematologists in your area. 

You also can contact the American Society of Hematology. While this is the largest and most respected organization of hematologists, there are both adult and pediatric providers included, so make sure the one you are considering specializes in pediatric hematology. On this site you also can verify a hematologist's certification and check to make sure they have not had a previous disciplinary action.

When you've developed a list of pediatric hematologists, vet them by checking Angie's List, where you can also see member reviews and rankings and verify their qualifications, education, continuing education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals.