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Signs There May Be Something Wrong With Your Blood, Including Weight Loss

Experts explain what to know about blood disorders and signs that indicate you have one. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

When something isn't working properly with your blood, it can affect your overall health so knowing signs of a blood disorder is important to recognize. The Cleveland Clinic says, "Blood disorders occur when a part of your blood doesn't do its job. You may have excessive bleeding, difficulty clotting or just not feel like yourself. With most blood disorders, people can expect to have a lifespan and lifestyle that's relatively normal. Early detection and treatment can make a big difference in your quality of life."

There's many different types of blood diseases, but common ones include the following: anemia, bleeding disorders such as hemophilia, blood clots, and blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma." The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases explain," Your blood is living tissue made up of liquid and solids. The liquid part, called plasma, is made of water, salts and protein. Over half of your blood is plasma. The solid part of your blood contains red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Blood diseases and disorders affect one or more parts of the blood and prevent your blood from doing its job. Many blood diseases and disorders are caused by genes. Other causes include other diseases, side effects of medicines, and a lack of certain nutrients in your diet."

While there's no prevention of blood disorders there are treatments and Dr. Brian Koffman, the founder of CLL Society tells us, "The treatments of all blood disorders, both benign and cancerous, are improving rapidly. Diseases that were universally fatal not very long ago are now routinely cured or managed. It is important to look forward as all the published survival data is by definition old and out of date. There is never a good time to be diagnosed with a blood disorder/cancer, but there never has been a better time in terms of treatment options and long-term survival. And tomorrow promises to be even better." Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About Blood Disorders


Dr. Koffman says,"The first thing to know is just how much variability there is in blood disorders. There are many different types of blood disorders. Some fast-moving blood cancers such as the acute leukemias and some bleeding disorders can become life threatening emergencies without urgent attention and others such as certain minor red blood cell disorders are of little or no clinical importance. Even the blood cancers are extremely variable in their impact with some having rapid growth and many serious symptoms, while others, while cancerous, may be so indolent or slow growing that they never need treatment and do not shorten the patient's life.  The important thing to know is precisely what is your specific diagnosis because that will determine prognosis and management. And to know that even among specific subtypes, there is great variability in outcomes among individuals with some doing much better than the predicted norm."

Dr. Eric Tam, a Primary Care Physician with Mighty Health says, "There are numerous types of blood disorders. They can range from disorders leading to a bleeding problem, blood clot problem, or blood cancers, just to name a few. They can really present at all ages and sometimes can be hereditary. The signs and symptoms can often be subtle, sometimes making it hard to lead to a diagnosis. Overall, there are numerous types of blood disorders. It is important to stay in touch with your primary care doctor for routine check ups as sometimes these disorders can be discovered on routine blood draws, leading to early treatment." 


How Blood Disorders can Affect Daily Life

Swollen Lymph Nodes

Dr. Tam says, "Depending on the blood disorder, the effects on the body and daily life can be variable. For example, take a blood disorder like beta thalassemia, which is an inherited blood disorder. There are different variations of this disorder in which it can lead to severely low red blood cells or really have no effect on the body at all."

Dr. Koffman states, "The answer is highly variable, depending on what part of the blood is affected and how severe is the impact. When the number of red blood cells are low in the body, the patient is said to be anemic. Since the red cells carry oxygen, you might be pale, tired, short of breath, lightheaded or all of these. If the clotting factors (such as in hemophilia) are not working properly, bleeding problems may result. Low platelet counts can also cause dangerous bleeding and bruising. Leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells. It can impair their ability to fight off infections and prevent other cancers. Also excess white blood cells can lead to swelling and discomfort in the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. Sickle cell disease is associated with severe acute and chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, infections, blood clots and many other problems. Several blood problems also increase the risk of blood clots and strokes."


Risk Factors for Blood Disorders

chemical plant near water

Dr. Tam explains, "Risk factors include both genetic predisposition and environmental exposure. For example, there are blood disorders that are passed down from generation to generation. In regards to environmental exposures, chemicals such as benzene, which is found in gasoline can increase risk of blood cancers. Smoking is also known to increase the risk of blood cancers as well."

Dr. Koffman explains the following are risk factors for blood disorders.

  • "Previous cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy and radiation therapy for other cancers leads to an increased risk of developing certain types of leukemia.
  • Genetic disorders and family history of leukemia or lymphoma can also result in higher risk. Some blood disorders are genetic (i.e. hemophilia) or run in families or are more common in certain races and ethnicities such as sickle cell disease or thalassemia. 
  • Smoking is a definite risk factor for leukemia as well as several other types of cancer.
  • Some leukemias have been linked to toxic exposures such as "Agent Orange" and benzenes and others.
  • Radiation exposure damages DNA and increases blood cancer risk.
  • Rarely a viral infection (human T-cell leukemia virus type 1) is associated with specific leukemias and be passed by shared needles and syringes, blood transfusions, sexual contact and from mother to child at birth or through breast feeding.
  • Some blood disorders are a result of nutritional deficits. Low iron or folate (Vitamin B9) or Vitamin B12 can all lead to anemia that can often be corrected with proper diet and/or supplementation. Excessive alcohol use is a risk factor for anemia through several mechanisms.
  • Most of the time it is not possible to determine with certainty the cause of blood cancer."


Signs of a Blood Disorder

Woman sleeping on the couch in the living room.

According to Dr. Tam, "The signs and symptoms of blood disorders can be variable. When talking about blood disorders leading you to have bleeding issues, you may realize it after a cut or an injury and your body has trouble stopping the bleeding. If we are talking about blood clotting disorders, you may not know until a blood clot has developed. Blood clots commonly occur in your lower extremities or in your lungs. If they occur in your lower extremities, you may experience tenderness, pain and redness in the affected area. If it occurs in your lungs, you may experience an elevated heart rate or shortness of breath. In regards to blood cancers, the initial signs and symptoms will include unintentional weight loss, fatigue, and night sweats."

Dr. Koffman says, "Blood disorder/cancer symptoms vary, depending on the diagnosis. Some blood disorders/cancers are found incidentally when having bloodwork for another reason and are completely asymptomatic at time of diagnosis and may remain so for the life of the patient. There are many other possible reasons for all the common and important symptoms listed below, but if they persist and no other cause is found, don't ignore them, and have your doctor test for blood disorder/cancer. 

  • Fever or chills or drenching night sweats
  • Persistent fatigue and/or weakness
  • Frequent or severe infections
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
  • Easy bleeding including nosebleeds or heavy menstrual flow
  • Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae) or bruises with no significant injury
  • Bone pain or tenderness
  • Unexplained itching"


Blood Disorders Can Be Treatable Depending on the Diagnosis

Bone marrow transplant operation

Dr. Tam states, "Like signs and symptoms, treatment of blood disorders vary depending on the diagnosis. With blood cancers, there are now a variety of treatments that include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy and bone marrow transplant. For other blood disorders, treatment may include frequent blood transfusions and therapeutics targeted more for symptom management."

Dr. Koffman says, "The answer is it depends. Many noncancerous blood disorders are easily managed and many blood cancers are curable in the vast majority of patients. Other cancers are incurable but may never need treatment or can be easily controlled for decades with simple oral medications. According to NCI (National Cancer Institute), approximately two out of three leukemia patients are alive five years after diagnosis, but this varies widely based on subtype."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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