Thalassemias What Are Thalassemias


Parents swinging their daughter between them at the park Thalassemias are inherited blood disorders. "Inherited" means that the disorder is passed from parents to children through genes.

Thalassemias cause the body to make fewer healthy red blood cells and less hemoglobin than normal. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein in red blood cells. It carries oxygen to all parts of the body. Hemoglobin also carries carbon dioxide (a waste gas) from the body to the lungs, where it's exhaled.

People who have thalassemias can have mild or severe anemia. Anemia is caused by a lower than normal number of red blood cells or not enough hemoglobin in the red blood cells. Normal hemoglobin, also called hemoglobin A, has four protein chains — two alpha globin and two beta globin. The two major types of thalassemia, alpha and beta, are named after defects in these protein chains. Severe forms usually are diagnosed in early childhood and are lifelong conditions.

Doctors diagnose thalassemias using blood tests. The disorders are treated with blood transfusions, medicines, and other procedures.

Treatments for thalassemias have improved over the years. People who have moderate or severe thalassemias are now living longer and have better quality of life.

However, complications from thalassemias and their treatments are frequent. People who have moderate or severe thalassemias must closely follow their treatment plans. They need to take care of themselves to remain as healthy as possible.

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