By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen
When I was given Dr Lim Teck Choon’s name and told I was about to interview a Haematologist, I had to look it up to find out what his speciality was all about.
Not having had any encounters with such specialists as all I ever had was mild anaemia which I appear to have outgrown, I was curious to find out more.
The word “heme” comes from the Greek for blood and Hematology (American spelling) is practised by specialists who deal with the diagnosis, treatment and overall management of people with blood disorders ranging from anaemia to blood cancer.
Ah, feeling slightly more enlightened I ventured to ask Dr Lim who is the Consultant Physician and Haematologist of KPJ Ipoh Specialist Hospital more about his speciality.
“Some of the diseases I treat include Iron deficiency anaemia and other types of anaemia such as sickle cell anaemia or trauma-related anaemia; Polycythemia or excess production of red blood cells; Leukemia; Platelet and bleeding disorders such as haemophilia; Thalassemia; Multiple Myeloma and Lymphoma.”
“My number 1 referred disease is Anaemia, mostly 80% of whom suffer from iron deficiency. In young women, 90% of this is menstrual related and gynaecological. In the older adults, the cause may be more sinister, to include GI bleed, stomach cancer or colon cancer”, he added.
“But when does someone suspect they may be anaemic?” I asked.
“When you feel tired all the time or a family member notices that you’re looking very pale” Dr Lim responded. “Or anaemia may be revealed in a routine checkup. This is when the patient is referred to me for further evaluation and treatment,” he added.
Blood tests including full blood count, full blood picture, anaemia study and a full medical checkup should reveal the cause, after which treatment may ensue.
Sometimes we may encounter a person’s haemoglobin levels (below 7) is so low that we have to immediately give a blood transfusion. The situation becomes dangerous when the patients also have other issues like ischemic heart disease. Then treatment has to begin immediately.
Endemic in Asians too is Thalassemia which is a group of genetic blood disorders that is characterized by destruction of red blood cells and haemoglobin that is higher than normal. This disease runs in families. The defective genes are passed to the children from their parents. The body is not able to produce sufficient red blood cells as compared to the destruction. This results in a deficiency of haemoglobin in our body. As Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to different parts of the body, its symptoms include jaundice, extreme tiredness, dark urine and many others. And treatment requires repeated blood transfusions for the patient to survive.
“I always counsel my Asian patients who are getting married to do a premarital blood analysis. If both carry the Thalassemia gene, then they need to be made aware that their future babies will likely carry the gene too and we can carry out a special test to test the foetus to determine if this is so.”
Sometimes a full blood test for the cause of anaemia may reveal that the patient has cancer of the blood such as Leukemia or Multiple Myeloma after which diagnosis, a course of chemotherapy is usually prescribed between Dr Lim and the selected oncologist.
“Lymphoma is yet another disease that I as a Haematologist to deal with. Diagnosis is often delayed because the symptoms go unnoticed by the patient. We usually treat Lymphoma with chemotherapy and may need stem cell transplant for certain type of lymphoma”, Dr Lim concluded.
So do heed his advice and have a blood test at least once a year.
Dr Lim Teck Choon MBBS (MAL) MRCP (UK)Consultant Physician and HaematologistSuite 2-09, KPJ Ipoh Specialist Hospital26, Jalan Raja DihilirTel: 05 240877 Ext 8520 Reception: Ext 8521