Signs and Symptoms of Thalassemia in Adults


Thalassemia is a hereditary malady. It is basically an autosomal recessive blood disease. Autosomal recessive pattern means both copies of the gene in each cell have transmutations. Thalassemia is also identified as Mediterranean anemia, Jaksch anemia or Cooley’s anemia. This is not a single syndrome but a group of deficiencies with similar medical effects. A cluster of inherited anemia, in which there is a shortcoming in alpha or beta chains of hemoglobin. The anemia affected to the alpha chains is identified as alpha thalassemia and the anemia affected to the beta chains are called beta chains. Thalassemia major is to define homozygote and Thalassemia minor to heterozygote. The deficiency leads to abridged rate of synthesis of one of the globin chain that makeup hemoglobin. This causes the creation of abnormal hemoglobin molecules which causes anemia, a typical symptom of thalassemias. Thalassemia consists of diverse types of anemia. The severity depends up on the number of genes it affected. In this sickness, the patient is inept to produce red blood cells and the reduction has to be supplemented with the transfusion of red blood cells, every 2-3 weeks to make patient fit and to stay alive. Set by the World Health Organization, May 8th each year is eminent as the World Thalassemia Day to raise consciousness about the disease, how to avert it and how is it transferred.

Signs and symptoms of thalassemia in adults

Key Points

  • Thalassemia is a congenital blood disorder in which the body makes an uncharacteristic form of hemoglobin.

  • If both of your parents are transporters of thalassemia, you have a bigger chance of getting a more serious form of the disease.

  • The two key forms of thalassemia are alpha-thalassemia and beta-thalassemia.

Carrying the Beta-Thalassemia gene

There is an apprehension when two carriers of beta-thalassemia desire to start a family. If two carriers conceive a child, the child has a:

  • 25 per cent risk of developing thalassemia major since they inherited the thalassemia gene from both parents

  • 25 per cent probability of not getting the thalassemia gene at all
  • 50 per cent chance of inheriting the gene from one parent and becoming a carrier.

Thalassemia is a hereditary blood syndrome in which the body makes an abnormal form of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that lugs oxygen. The condition leads to unwarranted demolition of red blood cells, which results in anemia. Anemia is a situation in which your body doesn’t have sufficient normal, healthy red blood cells. Thalassemia is congenital, meaning that at least one of your parents must be a carrier of the sickness. It is owing to either a genetic mutation or an obliteration of certain key gene fragments. The two main forms of thalassemia are alpha-thalassemia and beta-thalassemia. In alpha-thalassemia, at least one of the alpha globin genes has a mutation or aberration. In beta-thalassemia, the beta globin genes are affected. Each of these two arrangements of thalassemia has numerous distinctive types. The exact form you have will affect the severity of your symptoms and prognosis.

What Causes Thalassemia?

Thalassemia befalls when there is an abnormality or mutation in one of the genes involved in hemoglobin production. You inherit this genomic defect from your parents. If only one of your parents is a carrier for thalassemia, you might develop a form of the disease known as thalassemia minor. If this happens, you perhaps won’t have symptoms, but you will be a carrier of the disease. Some individuals with thalassemia minor do develop minor symptoms. If both of your parents are carriers of thalassemia, you have a bigger chance of inheriting a more serious form of the disease. Thalassemia is triggered by variant or misplaced genes that affect how the body makes hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Individuals with thalassemia make less hemoglobin and fewer flowing red blood cells than normal, which leads to mild or severe anemia.

How do I know if I have Thalassemia?

Folks with moderate and severe forms of thalassemia generally find out about their condition in infancy, since they have symptoms of severe anemia early in life. Individuals with less severe forms of thalassemia might only find out because they are having symptoms of anemia, or perhaps because a doctor finds anemia on a routine blood test or a test done for another reason. Since thalassemias are inherited, the condition occasionally runs in families. Some individuals find out about their thalassemia because they have kinsfolks with a similar condition. Folks who have family members from certain parts of the world have an upper risk for having thalassemia. Traits for thalassemia are more common in individuals from Mediterranean countries, like Greece and Turkey and in persons from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. If you have anemia and you also have relatives from these areas, your consultant might test your blood further to find out if you have thalassemia.

Thalassemia test

What are the Symptoms of Thalassemia?

Your symptoms will depend on the category of thalassemia you have.

Thalassemia minor

Thalassemia minor generally doesn’t cause any symptoms. If it does, it causes minor anemia.


Beta-thalassemia comes in two serious categories, which are thalassemia major, or Cooley’s anemia, and thalassemia intermedia. The signs of thalassemia major commonly appear before a kid’s second birthday. The severe anemia related to this condition can be dangerous. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • fussiness
  • paleness
  • recurrent infections
  • a poor appetite
  • failure to grow well
  • jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes
  • enflamed organs
  • This form of thalassemia is generally so severe that it necessitates regular blood transfusions.

A thalassemia intermedia is a less severe form of beta-thalassemia. Individuals with thalassemia intermedia don’t need blood transfusions.


Alpha-thalassemia also has two serious categories, which are hemoglobin H disease and hydrops fetalis. Hemoglobin H disease can cause bone problems. The cheeks, forehead and jaw might all overgrow. Moreover, hemoglobin H disease can cause:

  • jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes
  • a tremendously enlarged spleen
  • malnourishment

Hydrops fetalis is an enormously severe form of thalassemia. It transpires before birth. Maximum individuals with this condition are either miscarried or die soon after being born.

Is Thalassemia fatal?

Thalassemia comes in several degrees of severity. Patients with Alpha or beta thalassemia minor are mildly anemic but normally are very healthy and have a usual lifespan. Beta thalassemia intermedia and major and 3 gene Alpha thalassemia are progressively more severe and necessitate more intervention but patients who obtain good care and follow their doctor’s instructions can lead a normal life. If appropriately followed and taken care of, treated with transfusions and iron chelation when desirable and fittingly followed up, patients with thalassemia have very good life prospect.

How is Thalassemia Diagnosed?

If your clinician is trying to diagnose thalassemia, they will likely take a blood sample. They will send this sample to a lab to be tested for anemia and uncharacteristic hemoglobin. A lab technician will also look at the blood underneath a microscope to see if the red blood cells are strangely shaped. Unusually shaped red blood cells are a sign of thalassemia. The lab technician might also implement a test known as hemoglobin electrophoresis. This test segregates the diverse molecules in the red blood cells, permitting them to identify the abnormal type. Contingent on the kind and severity of the thalassemia, a physical examination may also help your doctor make a diagnosis. For instance, a severely inflamed spleen might propose to your doctor that you have hemoglobin H disease.

Risk factors

Factors that upsurge your risk of thalassemia include:

  • Family history of thalassemia. Thalassemia is handed from parents to offspring via mutated hemoglobin genes. If you have a family history of thalassemia, you might have a bigger risk of the condition.

  • Certain ancestry. Thalassemia befalls most often in African-Americans and in individuals of Mediterranean and Southeast Asian ancestry.


Possible complications of thalassemia embrace:

  • Iron overload. Individuals with thalassemia can get excessive iron in their bodies, either from the ailment or from recurrent blood transfusions. Too much iron can lead to impairment to your heart, liver and endocrine system. This system embraces hormone-producing glands that regulate procedures throughout your body.

  • Folks with thalassemia have an augmented risk of infection. This is particularly true if you have had your spleen removed.

In cases of severe thalassemia, the following complications can take place:

  • Bone deformities. Thalassemia can make your bone marrow swell, which causes your bones to broaden. This can lead to abnormal bone structure, particularly in your face and skull. Bone marrow enlargement also makes bones thin and fragile, increasing the probability of broken bones.

  • Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly). The spleen aids your body to fight infection and filter undesirable material, such as old or impaired blood cells. Thalassemia is often escorted by the devastation of a big number of red blood cells. This causes your spleen to expand and work harder than normal. Splenomegaly can make anemia worse, and it can lessen the life of transfused red blood cells. If your spleen grows too big, your doctor might recommend surgery to confiscate it (splenectomy).

  • Decelerated growth rates. Anemia can cause a kid’s growth to slow. And thalassemia may cause a postponement in puberty.

  • Heart problems. Heart problems such as congestive heart failure and atypical heart rhythms (arrhythmias) might be associated with severe thalassemia.

How can I prevent Thalassemia?

Since thalassemia is handed from parents to offspring, it is very hard-hitting to prevent. However, if you or your spouse knows of family members with thalassemia, or if you both have relatives from places in the world where thalassemia is common, you can get in touch with a genetic counselor to determine what your risk would be of passing thalassemia to your kids. One should remember that any kid could get thalassemia gene from their parents. It is not a contagious ailment, cannot be diffused by blood, air, water or physical contact. Males and females have equal likelihoods to get the disease.

What are the Treatment options for Thalassemia?

Thalassemia essentially is a blood ailment in which body starts making an unusual form of hemoglobin. A deficiency in any chain of hemoglobin molecules causes obliteration of red blood cells which causes anemia. The treatment for thalassemia depends on the kind and severity of disease involved. Your doctor will give you a course of treatment that will work best for your specific case. Some of the utilized treatments take account of:

  • blood transfusions
  • a bone marrow transplant (BMT)
  • medicines and supplements
  • possible operation to take out the spleen or gallbladder

Your doctor might coach you not to take vitamins or supplements encompassing iron. This is particularly true if you necessitate blood transfusions. Individuals who receive blood transfusions get extra iron that the body can’t straightforwardly get rid of. Iron can accrue in tissues, which can be possibly fatal. You might also need chelation therapy if you are receiving a blood transfusion. This usually encompasses receiving a vaccination of a chemical that binds with iron and other hefty metals. This helps confiscate superfluous iron from your body.

What is the long-term outlook?

If you have thalassemia, your outlook depends on the kind of the disease. Individuals who have mild or minor forms of thalassemia can characteristically lead normal lives. Diverse forms of thalassemia can be severe to mild. In severe circumstances, heart catastrophe is a danger. Your doctor can give you more info about your outlook and illuminate how your treatments can help improve your life or upsurge your predictable lifespan. A balanced diet is recommended for such patients. Thalassemia patients can have unproductive erythropoiesis and speedier red cell turnover. Thus a folate (folic acid) supplement could be necessary. Also, patients often have more vigorous FE absorption, so monitoring might be justified. You should be followed by a hematologist or a primary provider comfortable with thalassemia.


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