Noncancerous blood disorders are conditions that affect blood cells, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Blood disorders may cause symptoms and complications, but most are highly treatable.

This article outlines six noncancerous blood disorders and their associated symptoms, treatments, and outlooks. It also offers some general information on how doctors diagnose blood disorders.

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Aplastic anemia (AA) is a rare but serious blood condition in which the bone marrow is unable to produce enough new blood cells to support the body’s needs.

It occurs because of damage to the stem cells inside the bone marrow. According to the National Health, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the most common cause of AA is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack its own healthy cells.

Other causes can include:

  • certain medications, such as chemotherapy drugs
  • exposure to certain environmental toxins and chemicals
  • genetic predisposition, although this is rare

AA can develop rapidly or slowly and may range from mild to severe.

Symptoms of AA include fatigue, persistent infections, and easy bruising or bleeding

Treatment and outlook

Treatments may include the following:

  • blood and bone marrow transplants
  • blood transfusions
  • medications to suppress the immune system
  • medications to assist the production of new blood cells
  • lifestyle modifications to reduce exposure to environmental toxins

Medical treatments can help manage AA, and blood and bone marrow transplants may even cure the disease for some people.

Without treatment, AA can cause serious complications, such as heartbeat irregularities and heart failure.

Hemolytic anemia (HA) is a condition in which the body destroys red blood cells (RBCs) faster than it can replace them. This results in a low number of RBCs in the blood.

Hemolysis is the medical term for the process that destroys red blood cells. People with conditions that can speed up hemolysis are at increased risk of developing HA. Examples of such conditions include:

  • infections
  • autoimmune conditions
  • bone marrow failure
  • complications from blood transfusions
  • inherited blood conditions, such as sickle cell disease or thalassemia
  • certain medications

The condition can develop rapidly or slowly, and may be mild to severe.

Signs and symptoms of HA may include:

Treatment and outlook

People with mild, asymptomatic HA may not require treatment. Others may require one or more of the following treatments:

  • medications
  • blood transfusions
  • surgery to remove the spleen
  • blood and bone marrow transplants

People with severe HA require treatment to help manage the disease and prevent complications.

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a group of inherited RBC disorders in which RBCs become hard, sticky, and sickle-shaped. This occurs because of an abnormality with the protein “hemoglobin,” part of the RBC that carries oxygen.

Sickle cells tend to stick together inside small blood vessels, interrupting blood flow. They also die early, causing a continual shortage of RBCs.

SCD is a genetic condition that is present from birth. It occurs when a person inherits two genes — one gene from each parent — that code for abnormal hemoglobin.

Symptoms of SCD can range from mild to severe and may include the following:

Treatment and outlook

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved bone marrow transplants or stem cell transplants to treat SCD. However, both procedures are high risk and can cause serious side effects, including death.

In 2023, the FDA approved two gene therapies: Casgevy and Lyfgenia. Gene therapy can modify a person’s genes to help treat certain conditions.

Other treatments are available to help manage the disease, alleviate symptoms, and reduce the risk of complications. Some examples include:

  • vaccinations to protect against infections, such as influenza and pneumonia
  • antibiotics to help fight bacterial infections
  • blood transfusions
  • pain medications
  • medications, such as:
    • hydroxyurea to reduce the number of acute pain crises
    • voxelotor to prevent blood cells from forming the sickle shape and sticking together
    • crizanlizumab-tmca to help prevent blood cells from sticking to the blood vessel walls

According to a 2023 research article, the life expectancy for individuals with SCD is around 20–30 years less than that of individuals who do not have the disease. However, advances in therapy continue to prolong survival rates.

Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder in which the body cannot make enough hemoglobin. Without sufficient hemoglobin, the RBCs do not function properly and die quickly. This results in fewer healthy RBCs in the blood.

Individuals with moderate to severe thalassemia typically develop symptoms of severe anemia in childhood.

Individuals with relatively mild forms of thalassemia may only find out that they have the condition through blood tests for other health conditions. Less commonly, these individuals may also develop symptoms of anemia.

Some general symptoms of anemia include:

Individuals with thalassemia may develop additional symptoms, such as:

  • fragile bones
  • an enlarged spleen
  • frequent infections

Treatment and outlook

The treatment for thalassemia depends on the severity of the condition. Individuals with anemia may require a blood transfusion to boost RBCs. Those with severe thalassemia may require regular blood transfusions.

People who receive regular blood transfusions may also require chelation therapy to remove excess iron from the blood. In some cases, doctors may also prescribe a folic acid supplement to help boost RBC production.

A 2017 review notes that the outcome for people with thalassemia has improved dramatically over the past 50 years. This is largely due to factors such as an earlier diagnosis and intensified blood transfusion regimens.

Hemophilia is a largely inherited disorder in which the blood does not clot properly, causing an increased risk of bleeding.

Hemophilia involves a mutation in one of the genes that provides instructions for making clotting factor proteins. These proteins allow blood to clot.

Hemophilia can cause the following symptoms:

Treatment and outlook

The life expectancy of those with hemophilia is similar to that of the general population if a person responds well to treatment and does not have other health conditions.

ITP is a blood disorder in which a person has an insufficient number of blood platelets. Platelets are the components of blood that stick together to form a seal over a wound. As such, ITP can cause bleeding issues.

ITP occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the body’s platelets or causes the body to make fewer platelets. Researchers do not yet know what causes this to happen, but the following factors may increase the risk:

Some people with ITP may not experience any symptoms, while others will experience symptoms associated with increased bleeding. These may include:

  • petechiae, which are small spots under the skin
  • purpura,which are red, purple, or brownish patches on the skin
  • hematoma, which is a collection of clotted or partially clotted blood beneath the skin
  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • blood in the urine or stool
  • heavy menstrual bleeding
  • extreme tiredness

Treatment and outlook

For children with acute ITP, the condition usually goes away on its own within weeks or months and never returns.

The treatment for chronic ITP depends on the person’s platelet counts and whether they are experiencing symptoms. Mild cases may require monitoring, while more severe cases may require medical treatment.

Medications are the first-line treatment for children and adults with ITP, and these aim to boost platelet counts. Examples include:

In some cases, doctors may recommend additional treatments, such as platelet transfusions, or surgical removal of the spleen.

The NHLBI explains that ITP is not usually a serious condition, regardless of whether it is acute or chronic.

According to a 2022 research article, most children with acute ITP recover fully within 3–6 months, while around 10–20% go on to develop chronic ITP.

Around 50% of children with chronic ITP experience spontaneous remission of the disease within 5 years of initial diagnosis, with many achieving remission in the first 2 years.

Around 10% of adults with ITP achieve spontaneous remission of the disease within the first 6 months, and around 33–66% of those who do not achieve this will go on to reach a stable platelet count with first-line therapies. Those with remaining ITP will require second-line therapies.

Children and adults rarely die of ITP. When deaths do occur, they are usually the result of excessive bleeding.

When diagnosing blood disorders, doctors will begin by asking about a person’s symptoms, medical history, and family history.

A doctor will likely follow up with a blood test called a “complete blood count” (CBC) to assess the following:

  • RBCs
  • mean corpuscular volume, which is a measure of the average size of the RBCs
  • hematocrit, which is the percentage of RBCs relative to the whole blood
  • hemoglobin
  • white blood cells (WBCs)
  • platelets

Other tests that may help in the diagnosis of noncancerous blood disorders include peripheral blood smear, hemoglobin analysis, genetic testing, and tests of clotting function.

Noncancerous blood disorders may affect red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), or platelets. Depending on the type, they may cause issues with bleeding or blood clotting, anemia, or increased susceptibility to infection.

Some blood disorders are acute and resolve without treatment, while others may be chronic and require long-term treatment. People with chronic blood disorders may also require treatments to alleviate symptoms of the disease.

Anyone who experiences symptoms of a blood disorder should see a doctor for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment, especially if a blood disorder runs in their family.