Thalassemia – Genetic Blood Disorder

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India has the largest number of children with Thalassemia Major in the world, around
1 -1.5 lacs. About
10,000- 15,000 babies with Thalassemia major are born every year.

WHAT IS THALASSEMIA?

Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder that reduces the production of Hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the iron-containing protein in Red Blood Cells that carry oxygen to cells throughout the body. The patient needs regular blood transfusions to survive.
In India, approximately 42 million people are silent carriers of Thalassemia. They run the risk of having children with Thalassemia major if this disorder is not detected before planning a family.

Symptoms Of Thalassemia

The baby is normal at the time of birth. As he/she grows up to 3-4 months hemoglobin starts falling down and symptoms of Thalassemia appear which are;

Pale skin
Fatigue
Shortness of breath
Slow growth
Treatment For Thalassemia

To survive a Thalassemic Major child needs a regular blood transfusion, once every 2-4 weeks. Repeated transfusions result in excessive iron in the body. The iron overload in the body can damage the heart, liver, and endocrine glands. Excessive iron has to be removed with the help of injections or oral medicines. Repeated blood transfusions make the child vulnerable to many infections like Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Can Thalassemia be Prevented?

Yes, Thalassemia is preventable through simple blood screening.
The initial step is for every individual to find out if he/ she is a Thalassemic carrier or Thalassemic minor. In India alone, there are approximately 42 million. Thalassemic carriers. They have no symptoms, no complications, and do not require any treatment. But they run the risk of having children with Thalassemia Major if this disorder is not detected before planning a family.

How Can Thalassemia Carriers Be Detected?

Thalassemia Carrier also known as Thalassemia Minor can be detected through a simple blood test known as Complete Blood Count (CBC). Low Hemoglobin, fewer healthy RBC, and higher Red Cell Distribution Width (RDW) indicate that an individual may be a carrier. Another Blood test known as Hemoglobin Electrophoresis has to be done to confirm that the person is a Thalassemic Carrier/ Thalassemia Minor.
In case a person is a Thalssemic carrier, the spouse should also be tested. If only one of them is a carrier there are no chances of them having Thalassemia Major children.
In case both of them are carriers they run the risk of having children who are thalassemia major. They should seek genetic counseling. Pre Natal testing has to be done within 8-10 weeks of pregnancy.
Indian Red Cross Society has started Thalassemia screening and counseling centers. This center aids in the prevention of birth of children affected with this disorder through well-planned screening programs and awareness generation activities. Indian Red Cross Society is also helping Thalassemic children by providing blood free of cost.

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