Blood is composed of red blood cells (RBC), white blood cells (WBC) and blood platelets. These cells and cell fragments are suspended in blood plasma. Abnormal amounts of these components can lead to several symptoms and health problems. These abnormalities can also be caused by an underlying disease. Abnormal blood counts are common and are often very treatable. In rare cases, an abnormal blood count can indicate an immune disorder or a cancer.
Physicians in the Benign Hematology Program specialize in evaluating patients with abnormal blood counts to identify the cause of their condition and create a personalized treatment plan.
Anemia Causes and Treatments (Low Red Blood Cell Counts)
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that enables the blood to carry oxygen to every part of the body. Anemia develops when the body does not produce enough red blood cells or red cells are lost due to bleeding or other causes. In people with anemia, the blood is unable to supply enough oxygen to the body.
There are many possible causes of anemia. Symptoms of anemia can include:
- Shortness of Breath (severe cases)
- Chest Pains (severe cases)
Anemia can be a temporary problem or a chronic condition. Milder anemia can be treated with dietary changes, iron replacement (oral or IV) and vitamin supplementation.
Patients with more severe anemia may receive various medications to boost red cell production or inhibit red cell destruction. Patients with very low red blood cell counts may require blood transfusion.
Leucopenia Causes and Treatments (Low White Blood Cell Counts)
Patients with low white cell counts are more vulnerable to infections. Leucopenia can be caused by infections, certain medications and several underlying conditions, including immune disorders like rheumatic arthritis and lupus and cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.
Treatment for leucopenia can include drugs that stimulate the body to produce white blood cells.
Thrombocytopenia (Low Platelet Counts)
Low blood platelets can lead to abnormal bruising and bleeding. Thrombocytopenia can be caused by several different conditions:
Immune Thrombocytopenia (ITP)
Immune thrombocytopenia (ITP) is a condition in which the body produces antibodies that attack platelets. ITP is the most common cause of low platelet counts.
Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia is a potential side effect of heparin, a blood thinner medication used to treat blood clots. An immune reaction to the drug causes blood clots to form.
Gestational thrombocytopenia is a mild condition that can arise during pregnancy. Learn more about pregnancy, menstruation and blood disorders.
Abnormal bleeding and bruising can also be caused by a bleeding disorder like Von Willebrand disease.
Treatment of thrombocytopenia depends on the specific cause. Steroids can be used to calm down immune-related reactions. Several medications can be used to raise platelet counts. Some patients are treated with blood transfusion.
Pancytopenia (Low Blood Cells)
Pancytopenia is marked by low counts of all three types of blood cells—red cells, white cells and platelets. This condition can be caused by certain medications and by infections. In some cases, it is caused by a cancer or precancerous condition. Myelofibrosis, bone marrow scarring that can result from various hematologic cancers, typically leads to low blood counts.
Pancytopenia can also be caused by aplastic anemia, a bone marrow failure disorder that affects blood cell production.
Polycythemia (High Red Blood Cell Counts)
Polycythemia vera is a low-grade cancer marked by the overproduction of red blood cells. Elevated production of red blood cells can also occur in response to low levels of oxygen within body tissues. Treatment can include medications to reduce the risk of clotting. In some cases, patients undergo regular phlebotomies (blood draws) to reduce blood cell counts.
Leucocytosis (High White Blood Cell Counts)
The most common causes of elevated white blood cell counts are infections and inflammation. Some cases of leucocytosis are the result of an immune reaction. A small number of cases are caused by a blood cancer. Treatments for high white blood cell counts typically focus on addressing the underlying disease.
Thrombocytosis (High Platelet Counts)
High blood platelet counts can be caused by several conditions, including anemia, cancer, inflammation and infection. Treatment usually focuses on the underlying condition or disease. Essential thrombocythemia (ET) is a rare disease in which the bone marrow produces too many platelets. Patients may receive medicines to lower their risk of blood clots and reduce platelet counts.
Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS)
MGUS is a condition characterized by abnormal plasma cells. Although it is not a cancer, it is closely related to multiple myeloma.