Angie's LIST Guide to
Hematology

Hematology is a specialized field of medicine focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of blood diseases and disorders. A hematologist is trained to provide bone marrow transplants and blood transfusions.
 

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Blood types

All blood is basically consists of the same components but divides into eight different blood types: A positive, A negative, B positive, B negative, AB positive, AB negative, O positive and O negative. The most common blood type is O positive, and the least common is AB negative.

When you need a blood transfusion, the blood types should be matched in a specific way to ensure a safe procedure.

An antigen is the substance that helps your body recognize an immune response. Blood type is determined by the presence of an antigen or the absence of an antigen, signified by the positive and negative when identifying blood type.

A hematologist is knowledgeable in the different blood types, the absence of an antigen and why the blood has contracted a specific disease. A blood disease affects the blood cells, production of blood, hemoglobin and coagulation of blood.

If something is wrong with your blood, it can have an effect on your overall health. Some of the most common blood disorders include hemophilia, anemia, blood cancers, lymphoma and leukemia.

Blood disorders

A bleeding disorder is a condition resulting from blood that does not clot correctly. When clotting occurs, the platelets usually stick together and create a type of plug at the injured blood vessel. The different proteins in the blood interact with the platelets, hold the platelets in place, allow healing and prevent the blood from seeping.

Although generally rare, hemophilia is the most common bleeding disorder. Hemophilia typically affects men. Von Willebrand disease is another common bleeding disorder that affects both men and women. Both disorders are due to necessary clotting factors and are usually inherited, but either one can develop late in life. The signs of a bleeding disorder typically include easy bruising, heavy bleeding from small cuts, bleeding gums, heavy menstrual bleeding and unexplained nosebleeds.

Blood cancers affect the function and the production of blood cells. The majority of blood cancers start in the bone marrow, where blood is produced. As stem cells in the bone marrow mature, they develop into red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets. The main type of blood cancer is leukemia, caused when white blood cells are rapidly produced, which prevents the high level of abnormal blood cells from fighting infections and impairs the ability to produce red blood cells and platelets.

Blood must clot or coagulate to prevent an injured blood vessel from bleeding excessively. When a blood clot develops, it typically dissolves on its own after the injury heals. But if a clot forms inside the vessels without an injury occurring or if it does not naturally dissolve, it can be dangerous and require the immediate attention of a hematologist.

Blood clots can occur in arteries or veins, both of which are part of the circulatory system. If an abnormal clot occurs, it can restrict the flow of blood to the heart, which can result in pain and swelling from the blood gathering behind the clot. An example is deep-vein thrombosis, which is a type of blood clot that occurs in a major vein of the leg, arm, pelvis or other large veins. The clot can become detached and move to the lungs or heart, becoming wedged and preventing blood flow. Known as a pulmonary embolism, this is extremely dangerous unless treated immediately.

Anemia results when the body does not produce enough hemoglobin, the protein within red blood cells that carries oxygen. Many factors can cause anemia, including diet, pregnancy, blood loss and disease. Some types of the condition are hereditary, as in sickle cell anemia, which affects a large number of African-Americans.

Hematologists also diagnose and treat HIV/AIDS, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, lymphoma, leukemia, infectious mononucleosis and malaria.

Finding a hematologist

If you suspect you may have a blood disorder, you should visit your family physician first. Your doctor will often run some tests to decide whether your symptoms require an appointment with a hematologist.

A primary care physician can refer you to a local hematologist, but you should make sure your insurance policy covers this specialty. Check your health insurance carrier's directory for hematologists in your network and search for doctors through the American Society of Hematology.

Next, from your short list, search Angie's list for local hematologists with high ratings. You can verify their qualifications, education, continuing education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals in addition to member reviews and rankings.

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