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Thalassemia (thal-uh-SEE-mee-uh) is a blood disorder that is inherited. This means it is passed down from one or both parents through their genes. When you have thalassemia, your body makes less hemoglobin than normal. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein in red blood cells. It carries oxygen to all parts of the body.
There are 2 main types of thalassemia: alpha and beta. Different genes are affected for each type.
Thalassemia can cause mild or severe anemia. Anemia occurs when your body does not have enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. The severity and type of anemia depends on how many genes are affected.
Alpha thalassemia occurs when some or all of the 4 genes that make hemoglobin (the alpha-globin genes) are missing or damaged.
There are 4 types of alpha thalassemia:
This is a genetic disease inherited from one or both parents. The only risk factor is having a family history of the disease.
Different people will have different symptoms, based on which type of alpha thalassemia is inherited. Common symptoms for each type may include:
Alpha thalassemia is most commonly found in these parts of the world:
The following tests may help to tell if you are a carrier, and can pass the disorder on to your children:
All of these tests can be done using a single blood sample. In a pregnant woman, the baby is diagnosed using CVS (chorionic villus sampling) or amniocentesis. A DNA test is needed to make a diagnosis of alpha thalassemia.
Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:
Treatment may include:
People with alpha thalassemia may have no symptoms. Or they may have many symptoms. If you don’t have symptoms, you may still want to see a specialist. He or she can help you understand the risks of passing the disease to your children.
If you have symptoms, work with your healthcare provider. He or she can help you find the best treatment to reduce anemia symptoms.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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