Pediatric Blood Illnesses
Pediatricians see patients with a wide variety of illnesses on a daily basis ranging from surgical conditions, medical conditions, orthopedic injuries, gastrointestinal issues, and even blood disorders.
Blood disorders are conditions in which the blood components have abnormalities. The abnormalities can be issues with increased or decreased numbers of certain blood cells. In addition, some disorders involve abnormalities of specific blood cells. Certain types of these disorders can cause various complications in the human body, and in some cases, they can be life-threatening.
With several types of blood disorders and illnesses, it’s difficult to identify some of the specific causes clearly. However, scientists and hematologists have concluded that genetics, certain medications, nutritional deficiencies, and other diseases contribute to the etiology of these disorders. In addition, some blood disorders are idiopathic.
In what follows, we’ll be focusing on a few of the more common pediatric blood illnesses. Specifically, we’ll define each, discuss their potential causes, and explore possible treatment options.
Types of Pediatric Blood Illnesses
The types of pediatric blood disorders and illnesses each encompass their own signs, symptoms, treatment options, and long-term outlooks. Some have very minimal signs and symptoms, and some even have the possibility of resolution with minimal intervention. Others are quite complex and result in severe symptoms requiring advanced invasive treatments such as surgery.
Some of the most common blood disorders include anemia, hemophilia, variable blood clotting syndromes, and certain types of cancers of the blood. This holds true for both pediatrics and adult medicine.
In what follows, we’ll be discussing acute lymphoblastic leukemia, hemophilia, Von Willebrand disease, and iron deficiency anemia.
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia
Otherwise referred to as “ALL,” acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a type of blood and bone marrow cancer found in both adults and children. This form of cancer can become fatal if not treated in a timely manner.
Although it’s the most common childhood malignancy, it also happens to have one of the highest survival rates in children specifically. This is due to the advancement in treatment availability and effectiveness over recent years.
Treatment options for pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia include improvement of blood counts through blood transfusion, antibiotic treatment for any current infections, chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow transplant, and steroidal treatment. These treatments will vary depending on the stage and severity of the disease.
Hemophilia is a rare inherited blood condition that results in poorly controlled bleeding. It is an X-linked genetic disorder mostly seen in males that causes the deficiency of one of the factors that help to clot blood. This can be a minor problem at certain times and a major complication requiring hospitalization at others.
Once diagnosed and upon referral to a hematologist, treatment with an appropriate protocol, including transfusion of the necessary clotting factor, will be the standard care. There are different types of hemophilia that correspond to deficiencies of different factors. Treatment with sufficient amount of clotting factors will lead to improvement of bleeding episodes.
Hemophilia is a very rare blood disorder in children, with type A affecting about 1 in 5000 male births in the US.
Von Willebrand Disease
The normal blood components include clotting factors which are necessary to maintain normal functions in the active body. Von Willebrand disease, the most common bleeding disorder diagnosed in over 3 million Americans annually, is a deficiency of a blood clotting factor known as von Willebrand factor. This results in similar issues seen in hemophilia, but the difference is the factor deficiency.
Treatment of bleeding involves the transfusion of von Willebrand concentrates. In cases of minor bleeding, treatment can be attempted with desmopressin, a medication that causes the release of natural von Willebrand factor from cells that line the blood vessels. If not treated, von Willebrand disease in both adults and children can become life-threatening. If treated in a timely manner, however, symptoms of this condition can improve, though patients will continue to have the illness chronically.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
Anemia is a common blood disorder and health condition found in many children due largely to insufficient iron in the blood. In many cases, the disorder can be prevented with adequate nutrition in the diet or through iron supplementation.
Iron deficiency in children can be difficult to identify. As such, it’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the WHO to perform routine anemia screenings at 12 months of age.
There are many risk factors associated with iron deficiencies and anemia in children, some of which include premature birth, cow’s milk ingestion at less than one year of age, obesity, and lead poisoning. To minimize the risk of such a condition, it’s important to have your child regularly screened, maintain good nutrition, and avoid overconsumption of cow’s milk at a very young age.
It’s imperative that children obtain regular checkups with their pediatrician to have the best opportunity to receive timely treatment for any type of blood disorder. This is so important because some disorders do not have many symptoms. A quick diagnosis and evaluation and subsequent treatment will lead to the best possible outcome.