A lack of oxygen in the bloodstream causes the signs and symptoms of thalassemias. The lack of oxygen occurs because the body doesn't make enough healthy red blood cells and hemoglobin. The severity of symptoms depends on the severity of the disorder.
Alpha thalassemia silent carriers generally have no signs or symptoms of the disorder. The lack of alpha globin protein is so minor that the body's hemoglobin works normally.
People who have alpha or beta thalassemia trait can have mild anemia. However, many people who have these types of thalassemia have no signs or symptoms.
Mild anemia can make you feel tired. Mild anemia caused by alpha thalassemia trait might be mistaken for iron-deficiency anemia.
People who have beta thalassemia intermedia have mild to moderate anemia. They also may have other health problems, such as:
People who have hemoglobin H disease or beta thalassemia major (also called Cooley's anemia) have severe thalassemia. Signs and symptoms usually occur within the first 2 years of life. They may include severe anemia and other health problems, such as:
Better treatments now allow people who have moderate and severe thalassemias to live much longer. As a result, these people must cope with complications of these disorders that occur over time.
Regular blood transfusions are a standard treatment for thalassemias. Transfusions can cause iron to build up in the blood (iron overload). This can damage organs and tissues, especially the heart and liver.
Among people who have thalassemias, infections are a key cause of illness and the second most common cause of death. People who have had their spleens removed are at even higher risk because they no longer have this infection-fighting organ.
Many people who have thalassemias have bone problems, including osteoporosis (OS-te-o-po-RO-sis). This is a condition in which bones are weak and brittle and break easily.
Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Thalassemias, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.
Visit Children and Clinical Studies to hear experts, parents, and children talk about their experiences with clinical research.
September 2, 2014
Gary H. Gibbons
Researcher Brings Medicine One Step Closer to Widely Available Cure for Sickle Cell Disease
The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.