What causes low hemoglobin levels?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother has been having a hard time breathing, a lot of bruising and no energy. She is not being treated for cancer. The doctors told us her platelet count was 33 and her hemoglobin is dangerously low. They don't know whats causing this. Does anyone have any ideas?

Expert Answer

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Since her platelet count is low, several conditions can be to blame. The most common include anemias, idiopathic thrombocytic purpura, or HIV infection. A low hemoglobin can be caused by many health problems, from liver or kidney diseases to cancer.

With these two abnormalities in her blood count, she needs to be evaluated for numerous blood diseases. It would be helpful for her to see a hematologist, which is a doctor that specializes in disorders of the blood.

Since she is so tired and short of breath, I also hope that the doctors will consider giving her a blood transfusion, as this may help improve her symptoms for the short term. I am aware that transfusions have their risks, but they can really help someone who is severely anemic.