While many blood disorders are rare, there are some that are more common than you may think. When you hear blood disorder, you might immediately think of anemia or a clotting problem. Anemia, especially, is a common blood problem, but what about thalassemia?
Our team at Hunterdon Oncology and Hematology specializes in many different types of cancers and blood disorders, like thalassemia. Our team of doctors is made up of expert oncologists and hematologists, all who work to get you the treatment you need for your specific type of problem.
What exactly is thalassemia?
Thalassemia is a type of blood disorder that occurs when your body either doesn’t make enough hemoglobin or makes an inadequate form of hemoglobin. This blood disorder is inherited, meaning it’s passed down through families.
Hemoglobin is an essential protein in your red blood cells, because it has the ability to carry oxygen to all of the tissues and organs in your body. As you can imagine, if you don’t have enough of this protein, your tissues will become starved. There are two types of proteins in hemoglobin:
1. Alpha globin
Thalassemia related to alpha globin happens when there isn’t enough of the alpha globin protein, or the gene related to the alpha globin protein has mutated.
2. Beta globin
Thalassemia related to beta globin occurs when the beta protein has mutated or there isn’t enough of this specific protein.
If you’re born with either form of thalassemia, it could be further split into either thalassemia major or thalassemia minor. In order for you to inherit thalassemia major, both of your parents have the mutated gene, while with thalassemia minor, only one parent needs to carry the gene.
Thalassemia minor usually doesn’t exhibit symptoms, and you may only have smaller-than-normal red blood cells. Thalassemia major, on the other hand, can be more severe, including an enlarged heart.
Symptoms you could experience
The symptoms you experience with thalassemia greatly depend on the severity of your condition. Because thalassemia often leads to anemia, you may experience symptoms when you have moderate-to-severe anemia. If you have a less severe form of thalassemia, you may not have many symptoms at all.
Moderate-to-severe forms of thalassemia can lead to anemia. Because of the lack of hemoglobin and a decreased red blood cell count from anemia, thalassemia can cause several different symptoms in adults and children. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of thalassemia include:
- Swelling in your abdomen
- Pale skin
- Yellow-tinted skin
- Darker-than-normal urine
- Extreme fatigue
- Increased weakness
In children with thalassemia, you may notice they aren’t growing as quickly as they should be. This could lead to bone deformities, especially in facial bones. This happens because the body doesn’t grow as it should.
Serious problems related to untreated thalassemia include an enlarged heart or liver. This could lead to heart failure in some circumstances, if your condition isn’t treated properly. Thalassemia major also increases your risk of infections.
Treatment for thalassemia depends on the type of the disorder you have, and if you have symptoms or not. Mild forms of thalassemia may just require our team to monitor you and your blood over time. If you never get any symptoms, no other treatment may be necessary.
However, if you have a more severe form of the disease, you’ll likely need regular blood transfusions to make sure your body receives enough oxygenated blood. Our team may also recommend you take folate supplements regularly.
If you’re receiving regular blood transfusions, your iron levels may rise higher than they should. In this case, our team implements a therapy known as chelation therapy to get rid of the excess iron.
A bone marrow transplant is another way to treat thalassemia, especially in children. With treatments available, it’s important that you seek medical care from our doctors if you’ve been diagnosed with thalassemia.
If you think you may have a blood disorder, don’t hesitate to call our office in Flemington, New Jersey at 908-788-6461, or schedule an appointment online with one of our amazing doctors today.