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Medical History and Physical Examination for Blood Disorders

By David J. Kuter, MD, DPhil, Harvard Medical School;Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center

Doctors first take a person's medical history (ask about symptoms—see Symptoms of Blood Disorders—occupational or other exposures, and family information). Then they do a physical examination. The findings from the history and physical examination help doctors decide what tests may be needed (see Laboratory Tests for Blood Disorders).

Medical History

Doctors may suspect a blood disorder based on a vast number of possible symptoms. In addition, certain factors in a person's medical history indicate that the person is at risk. Some examples include the following:

  • A blood disorder in a member of the person's family

  • Another disorder (such as kidney or liver disease or diabetes) that can cause a blood disorder

  • A person's ethnicity or race (for example, sickle cell disease occurs mainly in blacks)

  • Use of a drug that may cause bleeding (such as aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or warfarin)

  • Exposures (for example, an occupational exposure) to a chemical that could cause bleeding or damage the bone marrow

Physical Examination

During the physical examination, doctors look for specific physical findings that can be related to a blood disorder.

  • They examine the skin and mucous membranes (such as the inner surface of the eyelids or the mouth), looking for paleness, abnormal blood vessels (telangiectasias), bruises, small red or purple spots, or red rashes.

  • They feel the neck, underarm, and groin areas for enlargement of lymph nodes.

  • They examine the joints to see if they are tender or swollen.

  • They examine the abdomen, feeling for enlargement of the spleen or liver.

  • They do a rectal examination to check the stool for blood.

The findings from the history and physical examination help doctors decide what tests may be needed (see Laboratory Tests for Blood Disorders).

* This is the Consumer Version. *