Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder that causes the body to produce less hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that helps them carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, causing anemia that can range from mild to life-threatening.
Some forms of thalassemia require lifelong follow-up care and regular blood transfusions. Other forms are more manageable and require little or no treatment. At the mildest end, thalassemia “minor,” also called thalassemia trait, isn’t a disease at all.
Children and young adults with thalassemia are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through our Thalassemia Program. Continue reading to learn more about thalassemia or visit the Thalassemia Program homepage to learn about our expertise and treatment options for this condition.
The primary symptoms of thalassemia are a result of anemia, a decreased number of healthy red blood cells. The following are the most common symptoms:
Thalassemia intermedia causes less severe symptoms than thalassemia major, which causes the most severe anemia.
Doctors diagnose thalassemia using blood tests, including:
After all tests are completed, doctors will be able to outline the best treatment options.
Treatment for thalassemia depends on the subtype of the disorder, but may include:
To monitor iron levels in the body, children with severe thalassemia must undergo specialized imaging testing.