There are three types of blood cell; red cells, white cells and platelets. Red cells are responsible for transporting oxygen around the body, white cells fight infection and platelets have a central role in blood clotting. Blood is produced in the bone marrow and in adults blood production occurs mainly in the skull, spine, chest and pelvis. Haematologists investigate people with abnormal blood counts and treat diseases that arise within the blood system.
Abnormal blood counts broadly fall into two categories: primary and secondary abnormalities. Primary blood disorders occur because of a direct problem with blood or bone marrow. Secondary blood abnormalities (which are more common than primary blood disorders) occur as a reaction to a disease or problems elsewhere in the body, but where fundamentally the blood and blood system are ok. Primary blood disorders are generally managed by Haematologists.
Blood is liquid for the great majority of our lives but almost in an instant (for example when we cut ourselves) it can become solid. The blood’s ability to clot is therefore essential in life. There are disorders where the blood clots too readily or not well enough. Often the cause, particularly for blood clotting too readily, is unknown but for some patients reflects a problem with blood clotting factors or platelets. Furthermore, blood clotting problems may influence management decisions at certain times in life such as pregnancy. Importantly many patients take drugs (e.g. warfarin) which affect the bloods ability to clot. For these or other issues surrounding blood clotting you may be referred to the haematology department for further investigation and advice.
Blood donated for transfusion may be used as part of treatment and the Haematology Department manages the blood group testing, appropriate use and selection of blood products for therapeutic purposes.
There are other organs in the body that are closely related to the blood. These are the spleen and the lymph glands. Routinely the spleen and lymph glands form part of the body’s defence against infection. Consequently, the commonest cause for enlarged lymph glands is infection. However there are many other reasons why the glands may be enlarged and in Haematology we can help determine and in some cases treat the cause.
Like all parts of the body the blood may develop a cancer. There are over 130 different types of cancers of the blood, bone marrow, spleen and lymph glands. The Haematology Department specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of the blood system cancers, offering a comprehensive service to deal with all the disease types.
Our laboratory performs approximately 2000 tests a day on the blood system, many of which generate abnormal or unexpected results. Your doctor may ask Haematology for further guidance in investigating a possible blood abnormality further. For this or any of the reasons outlined above you may be invited to the Haematology clinic for further assessment.