Thalassemia

Thalassemia is a group of inherited blood disorders that interfere with the body's normal production of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a substance that red blood cells need in order to carry oxygen to body tissues.

Thalassemia is inherited, passed on through genes from parent to child. Most people who inherit thalassemia are of Asian, Filipino, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, or, less frequently, African descent.

Symptoms of the disease vary. Some people have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, in which case they may not need treatment. Others develop symptoms of anemia, such as weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness, and pale skin.

People who have moderate to severe symptoms of anemia may require treatment with folic acid supplements and occasional blood transfusions. People who have the most severe symptoms of anemia usually require regular blood transfusions, medication, and folic acid supplements. Very rare forms of thalassemia may cause organ damage that can result in death.

Last Updated: July 8, 2009

Author: Robin Parks, MS

Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology

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