Blood Cell Disorder Vocabulary

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  • 0:02 Types of Blood Cells
  • 1:53 Red Blood Cell Disorders
  • 5:20 White Blood Cell Disorders
  • 6:45 Other Blood Disorders
  • 7:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Blood cell disorders can cause you to have problems transporting oxygen to your cells and fighting off infections. In this lesson, we will learn about the disorders and diseases that can affect your red and white blood cells.

Types of Blood Cells

Hello, I am Heema the hematologist, and I help people who have diseases and disorders that affect the cells in the blood. I'm here to tell you a little bit about the different conditions that I can treat.

Before we learn about the diseases that affect blood cells, let's take a moment to review the general types of cells that are in your blood. There are three general types of cells in your blood, and they all have very important, but also very different, functions. The most common blood cell by far is the erythrocyte, or red blood cell.

Red blood cells have one important job. They transport oxygen from the lungs to all the cells and tissues in your body. You need oxygen to live, so if you don't have enough red blood cells or if they don't work properly, then your cells will be starved for oxygen. This can make you feel very tired, dizzy, and weak. It can even make you faint if your brain doesn't get enough oxygen to maintain consciousness.

The second type of blood cell is the thrombocyte, or platelet. Thrombocytes are not even really whole cells, but just tiny fragments of cells that contain proteins called clotting factors that are important in helping your blood to clot.

If you have a problem with your thrombocytes, then your blood won't clot properly. In some cases, it may clot too slowly, and this can cause you to bleed excessively. In other cases, it may clot too easily, and this can lead to blot clots forming inside your blood vessels where they can cause tissue damage, heart attacks, and strokes. We won't talk too much more in this lesson about clotting disorders, but to learn more, you can watch our other lessons on that subject.

The third type of cell is the leukocyte, or white blood cell. There are several types of white blood cells, but they all work together to prevent and fight infections throughout your body. Disorders of the white blood cells cause you to have frequent infections and be unable to fight off common bacteria.

Red Blood Cell Disorders

Okay, now that we know a little more about the cells that are in your blood, let's look at what happens when something is wrong with them. We'll start by looking at disorders that affect red blood cells. It's considered abnormal when there are either too few or too many red blood cells, or when the cells are too small, too large, or not shaped correctly.

When there are too many red blood cells in your blood, this is a condition called polycythemia. To help you remember that, remember that the prefix 'poly-' always means 'many,' just like the words 'polysaccharide' (many sugars) and 'polygamy' (many wives). So, polycythemia means too many cells.

I can diagnose polycythemia by looking a sample of a patient's blood. If more than about 50% of the total blood volume is red blood cells, then this indicates polycythemia. In normal cases, your blood contains about 40-45% red blood cells. Symptoms of polycythemia include excessive sweating, joint pain, abdominal pain, headache, and dizziness. It can be caused by genetic conditions, certain cancers, and bone marrow disorders. If a patient has polycythemia, they will need to have blood removed periodically.

On the other hand, if a patient has too few red blood cells, I will diagnose him with anemia. This is a much more common condition and can be caused by nutritional deficiencies, excessive blood loss, and a variety of disorders that cause either reduced production or increased breakdown of red blood cells. If you have anemia, you may feel weak, dizzy, and tired. In severe cases, you may even experience fainting, paleness, and heart problems.

The most common type of anemia is iron deficiency anemia, which occurs when you don't have enough iron in your diet, leading to reduced red blood cell formation. Iron is a necessary part of hemoglobin, which is the molecule in blood cells that binds oxygen. This is easily treated with iron supplements or changes in diet.

A more serious type of anemia is megaloblastic anemia, which is caused by inhibition of DNA synthesis when red blood cells are forming. This causes them to grow very large but not develop normally. 'Mega' always means that we are talking about something really big, so you can remember that megaloblastic anemia results in really big cells that don't work correctly. It is usually caused by vitamin B-12 deficiencies but can also be caused by genetic conditions and drugs, like those used in chemotherapy.

A specific genetic condition that results in abnormal red blood cell production is thalassemia. In patients with thalassemia, red blood cells are too small, have poor oxygen carrying capacity, and are more likely to be destroyed.

In addition to thalassemia, another type of anemia that is caused by excessive breakdown of red blood cells is hemolytic anemia. It is caused by genetic factors, certain infections, autoimmune diseases, and lead poisoning.

An anemia that can be caused when red blood cells are formed with an abnormal shape is sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell disease is an inherited genetic condition, and patients with sickle cell disease suffer from frequent infections and a high risk of blood clots because the abnormally shaped cells cannot fit through blood vessels normally and tend to block small vessels, causing extreme pain, disability, and even death.

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