Could Thalassemia Be Sapping Your Energy?

While the lungs breathe in air and oxygen, it’s the responsibility of the blood to take it to all parts of the body. However, there are many conditions which can cause problems with this very complicated system in the body.

One of these is Thalassemia. 

Thalassemia is a condition in which the hemoglobin of the blood is unable to properly develop. This means that the red blood cells are unable to distribute oxygen throughout the body. It is linked to forms of anemia like iron deficiency and sickle cell anemia. Cases of anemia either lack red blood cells, or don’t have properly working ones. In many cases, people with thalassemia can develop anemia as well. It is a complicated and serious condition that is inherited at birth. 

Types and Symptoms

The symptoms of thalassemia are rather similar to those of anemia. Chief among them is fatigue and weakness. Some people will find their skin changes color to go pale or yellowish hue. Children with thalassemia may grow slower than counterparts and sometimes can show deformity in their facial bones. It’s also possible for urine to turn very dark and the abdomen to swell. 

There are two types of thalassemia, which feature subtypes. The importance of type has to deal with the symptoms. Symptoms can be far more severe in certain cases. Symptoms typically start at birth for some types, while others appear during early childhood. The first type is known as as Alpha-thalassemia. The 4 genes responsible for making the alpha hemoglobin chain are mutated and function incorrectly. The number of genes that are mutated will affect how strongly the symptoms affect each patient. One mutated gene is simply an indicator that the condition can be passed on. Two and three mutated genes move from mild to severe symptoms. Four mutated genes is rare and often results in a baby being stillborn, or dying shortly after. 

Beta-thalassemia is the second type. Two genes are responsible for creating the beta hemoglobin chain. As with the alpha genes, these are passed on from parents. Since there are less genes, there’s less of a range of outcomes with mutated genes. A single mutated gene tends towards lighter levels of symptoms and can be called “thalassemia minor”. When both genes are mutated, then it can be known as “thalassemia major” and the symptoms are more severe. 

Treatment

The good news is that people with mild thalassemia typically don’t need treatment. They may alter some aspects of their life to handle the minor symptoms. Severe cases however do need treatment. These treatments can be difficult to undergo for a long period of time. 

The most common treatment is blood transfusions. These often need to be done frequently. The danger in this treatment is iron buildup. The frequent infusions create a lot of iron in the blood. In turn, this iron can damage the liver or a person’s heart. For people who have to have consistent blood transfusions, they can undergo chelation therapy in conjunction with it. This treatment specifically works to reduce the amount of iron that has been building up from other treatment. Sometimes medications can be used to try to do the same thing. 

The final treatment option is a bone marrow transplant. The bone marrow is responsible for creating blood cells in the first place. This treatment is typically done for younger children with severe cases. The goal is to eliminate the need for a lifetime of blood transfusions. 

Treatment at Home

After a doctor has designed a plan for thalassemia, there are still things that can be done. Much of the treatment prescribed can result in dangerously high levels of iron in the bloodstream. One thing is to avoid taking any vitamins or supplements which might contain additional iron. Eating healthy also helps. Many aspects of diet can assist in building a higher red blood cell count. Diets should be carefully constructed with a doctor, or in some cases a nutritionist. Many items are advertised as “healthy”, but things vary from person to person. 

A simple, but excellent thing that can be done at home is to do everything possible to avoid infections. This can mean washing your hands consistently, while using hand sanitizer when it’s not possible. Avoid ill people and locations where illness consistently spreads from person to person. 

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