Thalassemia is a general term for a group of genetic blood disorders. Thus, the only route for having this condition are defective genes passed to you by your parents.
The basis of thalassemia is a defective gene (or genes), which causes a decreased production of hemoglobin. And less hemoglobin translates to a lower red blood cell count. Fewer RBCs results in reduced oxygen carrying capacity of your blood.
Thalassemia is one of several causes for anemia.
Alpha and beta are the two major types of thalassemia. Named because normal hemoglobin is made up of alpha and beta protein chains.
Alpha and beta thalassemia is further classified as minor and major based on the number of gene defects. Four genes instruct the making of the alpha chain (two from each parent) and two (one from each parent) for the beta.
Typically, minor thalassemia means you’ve been passed two alpha gene defects or one flawed beta gene. Whereas, major characterizes those receiving four alpha or two beta impaired genes.
Some of thalassemia symptoms include:
- dark urine
- slow growth
- shortness of breath
- protruding abdomen
- liver & spleen swelling
- facial bone deformities
If you have alpha or beta thalassemia minor, then you may experience no symptoms or only suffer mild anemia. Although thalassemia minor symptoms are similar to mild iron deficiency anemia, you’ll have normal iron levels. So treatment with iron supplements is not the course for improving your health.
Treatment for thalassemia depends on type and severity. At the worst, minor thalassemia treatment may require an occasional blood transfusion. Whereas, major thalassemia often necessitates frequent ones.
Blood transfusions can lead to iron overload, so iron chelation medication will likely accompany this treatment. For severe thalassemia, some can be treated with a bone marrow or stem cell transplant.
If you have thalassemia, a couple of health measures you can take are:
- avoid excess iron if transfused
- consume a healthy diet to help boost energy
- adequate sources of calcium, zinc & vitamin D in diet
- folic acid supplement helps body make new red blood cells
Succinctly put, you must keep yourself as healthy as possible.
If you receive blood transfusions, your health care provider may also recommend you drink tea, particularly black and peppermint. The reason is because the tannins in it help prevent iron absorption.
Thalassemia most often occurs among folks of Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Asian and African descent.