World Thalassemia Day 2019

By: Ashwath Seshadri

Published On: May 08, 2019

This World Thalassemia Day, understand the risks to your health and decode its prevention

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Thalassemia, fundamentally is a disease of the blood where the haemoglobin falls short of the average 15.5 grams per decilitre needed by a human body to function. Due to rapid breakdown of the red cells in a process called Haemolysis, patients diagnosed with this condition may suffer from severe anaemia, and require regular blood transfusions as part of their treatment. Today, the 8th of May, we commemorate all thalassaemia patients and parents who never lost hope, even all the implicated scientists who have never given up on finding a cure. It is important that we mark this day to understand the risk our country today faces in coping up with the deadly ailment.  

Surely you are aware that once a child is diagnosed with thalassaemia, they have to go through a lifelong treatment. The only alternate cure to this condition is to undergo a bone marrow transplant, which is possible only for a few proportion of patients. Patients fighting thalassemia fall short of oxygen, the main diet of RBCs is the continuous supply of oxygen to ensure the right functioning of the body. Hence, a body with unhealthy RBCs becomes prone to the initial symptoms of extreme fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath and poor eyesight. Severe anaemia can damage organs and also lead to death.

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According to a report by Indian Paediatrics, every year 10,000 patients are being diagnosed with Thalassemia in India.

So, how do I find out if I have Thalassemia?

People usually find out about their condition during their childhood. However, because Thalassemia is inherited, running a family background check is advised. Since the signs of this ailment may vary from mild to severe, running routine blood tests is necessary.

Now, what are the types of Thalassemia that one can being diagnosed with?

When we talk about the types of thalassemia, it can be determined by the specific part of haemoglobin that is affected or the severity of thalassemia. Let’s look at some of the types below:

1. Alpha Thalassemia:

In this type, the haemoglobin does not produce enough alpha protein. To make alpha-globin protein chains, our body requires four genes, two on each chromosome. While a person receives two from each parent. If one or more of these genes is missing, it will result in alpha thalassemia.  

2. Beta Thalassemia:

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In this type, the haemoglobin does not produce enough beta protein. To make beta-globin, we need two globin genes, one from each parent. If one or both genes are faulty, beta thalassemia will occur.

3. Thalassemia Minor:

This type, also known as an inherited blood disorder, is characterized by less haemoglobin and fewer red blood cells in the body than normal. Babies that are born with thalassemia might be healthy at birth but experience the signs and symptoms in the initial years of life.

Are there any complications of Thalassemia?

While iron deficiency is a condition a patient may experience, iron overload is another intricacy of the condition too. A spleen infection, bone deformities and alloimmunization might be some serious complications to people living with Thalassemia.

How can one prevent it?

The harsh reality of Thalassemia is that because it is passed from parents to children, it is very hard to prevent. Nevertheless, with the right diet and lifestyle habits one can get this condition under rigorous control. Consulting with a genetic counsellor may provide important insights to treating the condition. Any couple considering pregnancy must certainly consult a doctor who’d recommend a Thalassemia test.

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Coping with Thalassemia is tough, but you need not do it alone. Although global awareness measures are being taken and a quality treatment is now made available. The only proven cure for Thalassemia is a stem cell transplant. Listing yourself in the nation, preparing your mind-set for the extensive post-operative care and arranging funds plays a necessary role in getting aid for the condition. With the concept of fundraising gaining popularity in India, we encourage the ones fighting Thalassemia to never give up. When there is an option for best medical treatment, the finances must not be made too much of a worry.

Let’s make a difference this World Thalassemia Day!