What is Hematology?
Hematology (or haematology) is the field of medicine involved in the study of the blood. Blood is composed of particles, proteins, and fluids that are made in the lymphatic organs and bone marrow. Patients are normally under a hematologist’s care via referral from a primary caregiver or hospital. A hematologist is called in when symptoms or tests indicate anemia, blood clotting disease, blood count irregularities, or platelet irregularities. To diagnose diseases, hematologists perform intense analysis of the blood, blood cells, and bone marrow cells.
Hematology is often combined with other disciplines to diagnose and treat diseases where the blood is involved. Hematopathologists are doctors who specialize in diseases of the blood but also of the organs and tissues that are fueled by blood cells (lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, and lymphoid tissue). They are often experts in diagnostics where multiple symptoms are involved.
Hematology and oncology overlap in cancer treatment. Hematology-oncology doctors prescribe and perform stem cell transplants, bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy, and pheresis. These therapies are used to treat lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and immunity diseases. Hematologists work in laboratories, blood banks, hospitals, cancer treatment centers, and medical offices.
Hematology is classified into four major groups:
Hemoglobinopathy – Studies abnormality in the globin chains of the hemoglobin molecule. Diseases such as thalassemia (or erythropoiesis) and sickle-cell anemia fall under the umbrella of hemoglobinopathy, which are more common in the ethnic African population.
Hematological malignancies – Diagnosis and treatment of cancers that affect bone marrow, blood, and lymph nodes. Leukemia, lymphomas, and myeloma fall into this category.
Anemia – Involves the loss of hemoglobin from the blood leading to low organ oxygenation.
Coagulopathy – Deals with diseases that encompass improper blood clotting and excessive bleeding.
Hematology relies on blood tests as a primary diagnostic tool. Tests performed by hematologists to diagnose illnesses include:
- Blood count (CBC) – Helps in diagnosing anemia and certain blood cancers. A CBC also helps to monitor infection and blood loss.
- Platelet count – For diagnosing diseases and monitoring bleeding and clotting diseases.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) – Measures the rate at which red blood cells fall to help diagnose sickle cell anemia, polycythemia, and congestive heart failure.
- Prothrombin time (PT) – Evaluates bleeding and clotting diseases and can help monitor anti-clotting therapies.
- Bone marrow biopsies – To test for abnormal red or white blood cell counts shown in cancerous diseases (leukemia or Hodgkin’s disease) or anemia.
- Antiglobulin/Coombs test – Measures for antibodies that destroy red blood cells that may cause anemia, jaundice, mono, syphilis, lymphoproliferative disorder, or blood transfusion reactions.
- Diascopy – A simple test to see how skin blanches under pressure to diagnose various conditions.
A good rapport and mutual trust may be two of the most important aspects of the doctor-patient relationship. Be sure to find a doctor that makes you feel comfortable, that you can trust to explain important details about hematology and your health.