Also known as: alpha-thalassemia, beta-thalassemia.


Thalassemia is a blood disorder in which the body produces hemoglobin that doesn’t function properly.

Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen throughout the body. Most of the protein is in red blood cells and it gives the cells and the blood, its red color. In thalassemia, the abnormal hemoglobin causes red blood cells to be deformed so they are destroyed easily. This process is called hemolysis and leads to anemia because of poor production and increased cell destruction.

What causes thalassemia?

Thalassemia is an inherited disorder, meaning, it is passed down from parents to children.

What are the symptoms of thalassemia?

Symptoms of thalassemia can include:

  • jaundice
  • paleness
  • poor appetite
  • trouble with growth
  • fussiness
  • frequent infections
  • enlarged liver and spleen 
Other complications include gall stones and later iron overload in the liver, skin and heart.

What are thalassemia care options?

Supportive care for children with thalassemia often comes in the form of regular blood transfusions, and folate supplements. A bone marrow transplant is the only cure for those patients, as long as it is done early in life, before development of complications.

Reviewed by: Kamar Godder, MD

This page was last updated on: September 29, 2020 03:34 PM

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