Lots of people detest getting bloodwork. Needles and blood are right up there at the top of medical phobias. But remember that there’s good reason that blood tests are a part of your routine check-ups. Your bloodwork can help your doctors diagnose various disorders, including those that specifically relate to blood. If your doctor noticed something unusual in your bloodwork, he or she might send you to a hematologist to have it checked out.
It’s only natural to feel a little uneasy when you’ve been referred to see a specialist. Stress might be unavoidable, but you can channel it positively by gathering accurate information about whom you’ll be seeing. Being active in your medical decision process will help you receive the highest level of care possible. Make sure you follow your physician’s advice to see a hematologist and prepare yourself by learning everything you need to know about the specialty.
What is a hematologist?
Hematologists are specialists in the study, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases that relate specifically to the blood. Not all abnormal blood tests will lead to the treatment of a hematologist, only those that indicate a specifically blood-related illness and procedures.
Hematologists can further specialize in individual blood disorders such as:
- White blood cell imbalances, which can impede the immune system’s ability to fight against bacteria and viruses.
- Red blood cell imbalances, in which the body’s supply of red blood cells falls for some reason. Red blood cells are needed for moving oxygen around the body.
- Iron imbalances, in which the body doesn’t deal with iron as well as it could. This is one of the chief causes of anemia.
- Blood cancers such as leukemia or Hodgkin’s disease.
When should you see a hematologist?
Most people are sent to hematologists when their doctor notices something in their blood work. Since hematologists are equipped to handle these cases, it makes sense for a doctor to refer you to someone who can give more focused treatment. This most often happens when:
- White blood cell counts are high. Your white blood cells are your immune system’s main way of fighting disease. A higher number of white blood cells might be an important clue that something is amiss.
- There’s unusual bleeding or bruising. Your body can mostly take care of cuts and bumps by itself, so little injuries that take a long time to heal might be worth a second look.
- Someone is diagnosed with blood cancer. These kinds of cancers are treated by hematologists.
Common treatments performed
The type of treatment you receive varies depending on your specific diagnosis. Hematological treatments can include:
- Replacement therapy to help the body deal with bleeding more effectively.
- Transfusions of blood or oxygen to relieve anemia.
- Radiation or chemotherapy for different kinds of cancer.
What certifications do hematologists need?
If your doctor has recommended that you see a hematologist, you can check his qualifications on the Internet. This can be a stressful time, but you can control your unease with a little research and planning. Knowing how hematologists are educated can help you better understand their credentials.
All hematologists are expected to attend medical school and obtain a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. A student who chooses to specialize in hematology will also need to go through three years of clinical training, during which time he will prepare for a fellowship in hematology.
The American Board of Internal Medicine supervises hematology fellowships and makes sure that those who complete the program are well-informed about their practice. Doctors are required to take a certification exam before they can practice hematology.
Your first meeting with a hematologist
Blood conditions are usually manageable with the right treatment. During your first hematology appointment, you’ll want to get to know your specialist’s level of experience and assess their ability to treat you. You may be working with this person for a long time, so you owe it to yourself to decide early whether you and your hematologist can get along. Consider what questions are most important for you to know before it’s time for your appointment.
- “Can you repeat that please?” The appointment is your time, and you need to understand clearly what your doctor is telling you. Doctors often like patients who take an interest in their own well-being, so don’t be afraid to ask questions when you have them.
- “Have you treated others with my condition?” Every case is different, but informative patterns often appear. Take some time to understand your hematologist’s experience with your situation to know what you can expect.
- “What are my blood counts and what do they mean?” Your blood isn’t the same everywhere; it’s made up of red, white and platelet cells that can shape your health in different ways. Let your doctor explain what your levels are and what they might mean for your treatment options.