Thalassemia is a problem with the way the body makes hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen to all parts of the body. When a child has thalassemia, the red blood cells have less hemoglobin than normal. The cells don’t last as long as normal red blood cells, and this causes anemia. Anemia means that your child doesn’t have enough red blood cells, or enough normal hemoglobin in the red blood cells, to carry all of the oxygen the body needs.
Thalassemia is inherited, which means that it is passed from parents to children through their genes. Genes are inside each cell of the body. They contain the information that tells the body how to develop and work.
Thalassemia is caused by a problem with the genes that make hemoglobin. There are different forms of thalassemia, depending on which genes are affected.
Thalassemia is most common among people of Mediterranean descent, such as Italians and Greeks. It is also found among people from the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Southern China.
The symptoms depend on the form and severity of the disease. Some children have no symptoms or very mild symptoms. Others with a very severe form of the disease die before or shortly after birth.
More severe forms of the disease may cause symptoms in early childhood such as:
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your child will have blood tests. A family history and tests of the blood of family members may also help make the diagnosis.
DNA testing during pregnancy with either amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS) can show if a baby will have the disorder and how severe it is likely to be.
Treatment depends on the type of thalassemia and how severe it is.
Without treatment, severe thalassemia can lead to heart and liver problems.
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child's healthcare provider. In addition:
Ask your child’s healthcare provider:
Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.