Treatments for Thalassemia
Blood transfusions, iron chelation therapy, and bone marrow transplants are among the thalassemia treatments. Regular transfusions can help keep hemoglobin and red blood cell numbers at normal levels. Iron chelation therapy removes excess iron from the blood to prevent organ damage. Without these treatments, children with severe forms of the disease typically do not live beyond early childhood.
Treatments for thalassemia depend on the type and the severity of the disease. For example:
- People who are carriers (thalassemia trait) usually do not have any symptoms and do not need treatment.
- People with moderate forms of thalassemia may need occasional blood transfusions.
- People with severe thalassemia have a serious and life-threatening illness. They are treated with regular blood transfusions, iron chelation therapy, and bone marrow transplants. Without treatment, children with severe thalassemia typically do not live beyond early childhood.
Severe forms of thalassemia are treated by regular blood transfusions. This procedure provides blood containing normal red blood cells from healthy donors through a needle into a vein.
Blood transfusions are done on a schedule (often every two to four weeks) to keep hemoglobin and red blood cell numbers at normal levels. Transfusion therapy can allow a person with severe thalassemia to feel better, enjoy normal activities, and even live longer.
Transfusion therapy, while life-saving, is expensive and carries a risk of transmission of viral and bacterial diseases. This procedure also leads to excess iron in the blood -- iron overload -- which can damage the liver, heart, and other parts of the body. To prevent damage, iron chelation therapy is needed to remove excess iron from the body.