Thalassemia is a blood disorder. It lowers the number of healthy red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all the organs in the body. Low levels make it hard to get enough oxygen throughout the body.
Hemoglobin is an important part of red blood cells. It is needed for red blood cells to pick up oxygen. Hemoglobin is abnormal in thalassemias. The type of thalassemia will depend on what part of the hemoglobin is affected:
Alpha thalassemia—alpha part of hemoglobin is damaged
Beta thalassemia—beta part of hemoglobin is damaged
Thalassemia is caused by problems in specific genes. The altered gene or genes are passed from the parents. There are 4 genes needed for changes in hemoglobin, 2 from each parent. The number of genes that are passed will decide how severe thalassemia is:
1 abnormal gene—no signs of illness but can pass condition on to their child; called silent carrier
2 abnormal genes—thalassemia trait, may have mild anemia
3 abnormal genes—Hemoglobin H disease, moderate to severe anemia
4 abnormal genes—most severe form called Alpha hydrops fetalis, results in fetal or newborn death
In beta thalassemia:
1 abnormal gene—Thalassemia minor, carrier with mild anemia
2 abnormal genes—Thalassemia major known as Cooleys anemia, may have moderate to severe anemia
Blood cells are formed in the bone marrow. A bone marrow transplant uses healthy cells from a donor to grow new bone marrow. This can let the body grow healthy red blood cells. It may be a cure for some people. However, there can be complications from this type of procedure. It can also be hard to find a good match with a donor. It may not be an option for everyone.
The spleen is a small organ near the stomach. It helps to recycle old red blood cells. Anemia can enlarge the spleen. This can make anemia worse. The spleen may need to be removed. The surgery may help cut back on the number of blood transfusions that are needed.
Explore thalassemias. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: ...(Click grey area to select URL) Accessed September 6, 2019.
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