The Basics of Blood Disorders

What You Need to Know about Blood Disorders

There are many different types of blood disorders which can cause a variety of symptoms, but many of us don’t consider our blood when we start to feel poorly. Here, we share important information about several of the most common blood disorders to look out for. Read on for helpful tips for living with these disorders from local experts.


Anemia is a condition characterized by abnormally low levels of healthy red blood cells. Symptoms include exhaustion, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, or an irregular heartbeat. Common types of anemia include:

Iron-deficiency anemia:

The most common cause of anemia is low levels of iron, which is necessary for red blood cell production. People with iron-deficiency anemia may have cold hands and feet or pale skin in addition to the typical symptoms listed above.

Vitamin B12-deficiency anemia:

Low levels of B12 can also impair red blood cell production. Untreated B12 deficiency can cause neurological symptoms like trouble walking, uncontrollable muscle movements, mood changes, confusion, and more.

spreading blood in a cloudy and airy form in blue background

Hemolytic anemia:

Hemolysis is the body’s normal process of discarding old or unhealthy red blood cells. Hemolytic anemia occurs when this process is impaired, causing the body to destroy healthy cells faster than they can be created.

Common treatments for anemia include medications and dietary supplements. Dr. J. Eric Turner of Peeples Cancer Institute advises, “Taking a daily multivitamin supplement and choosing a healthy diet can help support red blood cell development and limit the effects of anemia.”

Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a cluster of inherited disorders relating to abnormalities in hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. With SCD, abnormal hemoglobin causes the red blood cells to become sticky, rigid, and C-shaped. This causes the cells to get stuck in blood vessels and impairs blood flow, leading to significant symptoms such as pain, infection, acute chest syndrome, and stroke. SCD can also cause a form of hemolytic anemia known as sickle cell anemia.

“Bone marrow transplants and gene therapy are emerging as very promising ways to remove many of the lifelong complications from sickle cell disease,” says Dr. Avery Mixon, director of pediatric hematology/oncology at Erlanger. “For patients who aren’t ready or eligible to pursue those options, there are several new drugs on the market that can help decrease symptoms and complications, and some patients rely on chronic transfusional support.”

Additionally, certain lifestyle changes can be helpful. “The key is to prevent sickle pain crises,” Dr. Turner explains. “Sickle cell patients need to stay hydrated, so drinking plenty of water each day is helpful. They should also avoid tobacco use and try to exercise at a moderate level regularly.”


Hemophilia is a genetic disorder in which the blood does not clot properly. “Hemophilia can lead to internal bleeding, nosebleeds, and bleeding within the joints that can damage the joint space over time,” says Dr. Turner. There is no cure, but highly effective treatments are available and typically involve infusing the blood with the necessary clotting factor. This can be done after injury to stop bleeding or on a regular basis to prevent bleeding episodes.

The CDC reports that hemophilia occurs in far more male births than female. This is because male sex is determined by XY chromosomes as opposed to XX for female. 

A female baby would need to inherit the gene that causes hemophilia on both X-chromosomes to develop the disorder, while males will be hemophilic if the gene is present in just one. Because of this, Dr. Mixon advises, “Male children from carrier mothers should be tested shortly after birth to see if they have inherited this.”

Though hemophilia has a strong genetic component, Dr. Turner says, “Some people develop hemophilia without a family history, which is called acquired hemophilia. Acquired hemophilia can be associated with pregnancy, some cancers, autoimmune conditions, certain drugs, and multiple sclerosis.”

Venous Thromboembolism

“Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a significant vascular disease that can cause dangerous complications, including deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism, which may lead to long-term disability or even death,” says Dr. Chris LeSar of Vascular Institute of Chattanooga. DVT is a blood clot that forms in the vein, which can impede blood flow or break off and travel to the lungs as a pulmonary embolism, blocking blood flow.

“If you have experienced VTE, the risks of developing recurring clots or further complications may be higher than those who have not experienced this condition. 

Fortunately, there are measures you can take to help prevent another episode of VTE or limit the risk of complications,” says Dr. LeSar. “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, regularly exercising, and avoiding smoking are all steps that can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing new blood clots. Additionally, if your doctor prescribes blood-thinning medication, taking it as directed can help reduce the risk of further VTE occurrences. By working with your healthcare provider and following their recommendations, you can take steps to manage your VTE and prevent long-term complications.”

Though disorders of the blood can cause a wide range of symptoms, it can be easy to overlook the possibility that you may have a blood-related condition. If you are experiencing symptoms like unexplained exhaustion or tingling sensations – and certainly if you are experiencing any of the severe symptoms discussed earlier – it is important to check with a doctor for proper testing or treatment.

“Blood, as everyone is aware, is vital to life. Blood that isn’t being made properly in your bone marrow, blood that is diseased, and losing blood all can have anywhere from mild symptoms to life-threatening consequences,” says Dr. Mixon. “As it is vital to your well-being, don’t ignore your symptoms. Have a discussion with your primary care physician to see if any lab work is indicated or if a referral to a hematologist is needed.”

illustration of multicolored bandaids with red hearts in the center of each bandaid
Picture of Avery Mixon, MD

Avery Mixon, MD

Director of Pediatric Hermatology/Oncology, Erlanger

Picture of J. Eric Turner, MD

J. Eric Turner, MD

Medical Director of Oncology, Peeples Cancer Institute at Hamilton Medical Center

Picture of Chris LeSar, MD

Chris LeSar, MD

Vascular/Endovascular Surgeon, Vascular Institute of Chattanooga

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