Kids Health Info

Thalassaemia - FAQ

  • Thalassaemia is a group of blood disorders. Thalassaemia is the most common inherited blood disorder. Inherited means when something is passed down from parent to child. People with thalassaemia have an increased destruction of red blood cells (haemolytic anaemias). People with less red blood cannot produce enough haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the part of the blood which carries oxygen around the body.

    This disorder is found in people from many countries around the world, but is more common in people of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Asian origin. It is rare in Northern Europeans.

    There are two forms of thalassaemia, Thalassaemia minor and Thalassaemia major.  Please see factsheet - Thalassaemaia - an overview.

    What is blood made of?

    Blood is made up of a lot of red blood cells in a clear, slightly yellow liquid called plasma. Each red blood cell only lives for about 4 months. It is then broken down. New red blood cells are being made all the time. The blood cells are replaced very quickly, that's why people can give blood for transfusions.

    Blood is red because the red blood cells contain a substance called haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is very important because it carries oxygen from your lungs to wherever it is needed in your body. Haemoglobin contains a lot of iron. When your red blood cells are broken down, most of the iron from the haemoglobin is used again to make new haemoglobin. You lose some iron from your body everyday and you make up for it with the iron in the food you eat. In fact the main reason why people need iron in their food is to make haemoglobin.

    What is anaemia?

    Some people don't have enough haemoglobin in their blood. That is called anaemia. There are many different kinds of anaemia. The most common kind is iron deficiency anaemia. This happens when people do not have enough haemoglobin because they're not eating enough of the foods that contain iron.

    Thalassaemia major is a different kind of anaemia. It is caused by not having enough haemoglobin, but it has nothing to do with the amount of iron you're getting from your food.

    Can thalassaemia be passed on to my child's future children?

    If your child's future partner does not have the thalassaemia trait, then there is no risk of their children having thalassaemia major. There is a 50% chance that each child may have thalassaemia trait.

    The more important risk is if your child's future partner also has the thalassaemia trait. Then there is a risk of your grandchilden having thalassaemia major. In each pregnancy there is a one in four (25%) chance that their child will have normal blood, a two in four (50%) chance that the child will have thalassaemia trait, and a one in four (25%) chance that the child will have thalassaemia major. The chances of having a child with thalassaemia major remain one in four (25%) with each pregnancy.

    Should my child do anything about thalassaemia before he/she has children?

    Your child should discuss this with his/her future partner. The partner could have a blood test to look for the thalassaemia trait. This is particularly important if the partner is a descendant of someone from the countries listed above. If both partners carry the trait, then they should talk to a genetic counsellor or other doctor interested in thalassaemia before starting a pregnancy. With proper advice and monitoring, it is perfectly possible for them to have a healthy normal family.

    More information

    Developed by RCH  General Medicine Department 2010


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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.