Thalassemia minor is a genetic blood condition. Patients with thalassemia minor are sometimes said to have “thalassemia trait,” and they are often non-symptomatic. Although someone with this condition may not experience adverse symptoms, the trait can be passed on to a child, and if the other parent also carries the trait, the child could develop thalassemia minor by inheriting a bad gene from one parent, or a more severe form of the disease by inheriting the gene from both parents.
The term “thalassemia” actually describes a family of inherited blood conditions seen primarily among people of Mediterranean and Asian descent. Patients with this conditions have defects in the genes which contribute to the production of hemoglobin, causing the patient to develop anemia. There are a number of different types of thalassemia, and two forms of thalassemia minor. More severe forms can lead to problems such as severe anemia or stillbirth.
The most common subgroup of thalassemias is thalassemia beta. People with thalassemia beta minor have inherited one copy of the defective gene. Since the condition is recessive, they need two copies of the gene for the condition to appear. Some people with this trait experience mild anemia and may need to watch their diets, but most are perfectly healthy and require no special treatment. In fact, many patients are unaware that they carry the gene, unless they happen to be tested for it.
Thalassemia alpha, another subgroup within this family of conditions, also has a minor form. Thalassemia alpha trait or thalassemia alpha minor involves inheriting some, but not all, of the defective genes. There are four separate alleles involved in the expression of thalassemia alpha. Someone who inherits one or two has thalassemia alpha minor. She or he will be a carrier for the condition, but should not experience symptoms beyond minor anemia and fatigue, if any symptoms are experienced at all.
Because thalassemia is such a common condition in the Mediterranean, prospective parents of Mediterranean descent are often encouraged to get genetic testing to determine whether or not they are carriers of thalassemia. This testing is important, because someone can have thalassemia minor and be unaware of it, which means she or he could pass the gene on to a child. Testing may be required before a marriage license will be issued in some regions, much as AIDS testing is required to get married in some regions of the world.
Can Beta Thalassemia Minor Be Cured?
Of the types of Thalassemia, Beta Thalassemia Minor is the least life-altering and life-threatening of the group. However, that doesn't mean that people who struggle with their diagnosis don't want to cure the blood disorder, if possible. While blood transfusions are a standard and often necessary treatment for Thalassemia Major, they do not cure the condition. It is only through stem cell and bone marrow transplants that Thalassemia might be cured.
Stem Cell Transplants
Although stem cell transplants have been known to cure Beta Thalassemia Minor and other forms of Thalassemia, they do not always work. The odds increase when donors are closely related, like siblings. Still, sometimes the cells are rejected by the body, causing infection and potentially grave consequences.
Since the chances of success with a stem cell transplant are varied, doctors will carefully weigh the benefits of a stem cell transplant against the severity of your illness. Beta Thalassemia Minor is just that: minor. In the worst cases, people who suffer from Beta Thalassemia Minor face challenges managing ongoing anemia.
Could Not Should
For best results and the sake of preservation for you and stem cell donors, unless an emergency arises, living with the disorder is a better option than undergoing a stem cell transplant for a chance to cure Beta Thalassemia Minor.
How Is Beta Thalassemia Minor Treated?
While the cure for Beta Thalassemia Minor is not recommended for most people, there are successful ways to manage the condition that do not entail painful surgeries that can be unsuccessful. For the most part, managing individual symptoms and treating moderate anemia correctly is the best approach to maintaining a normal life. Symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Pale or pallid skin
- Slow growth
- Weak or brittle bones
- Enlarged spleen
Anemia is a blood condition where you do not have enough healthy blood cells to transport oxygen to your body. When your body cannot get the oxygen it needs, you will feel weak and be prone to illness. Not everyone with Beta Thalassemia Minor will develop anemia. In fact, for the most part, the blood disorder is relegated to Thalassemia Intermediate can show up from time to time. Complications that occur with anemia and Thalassemia include but are not limited to:
- Iron overload
- Bone deformities
- Heart problems
- Abdominal swelling
- Dark or painful urine
The problem with anemia is that it can become severe over time if not treated. Correctly identifying anemia as the cause of noted symptoms through blood tests is an ideal first step. Taking the time to check for indicators of Thalassemia is a necessary second step that won’t always be a natural leap for healthcare providers to make.
Can Minor Thalassemia Donate Blood?
Blood is always in high demand. Schools, places of worship, civic centers, and volunteer services all host blood drives frequently to help meet hospitals' ongoing needs. Due to social distancing and mandated shut-downs, blood drives have not been operating as usual.
Now, because of the recent and ongoing pandemic, an actual blood shortage has been declared due to the absence of an adequate supply. Blood banks are at the lowest they have ever been, and hospitals and clinics are fighting to keep patients supplied with the life-saving blood required for transfusions and other needs.
People who suffer from certain types of Thalassemia, other than Beta Thalassemia minor, also require regular blood transfusions, especially during the younger years as their little bodies fight to grow and develop against the strife of complications. Blood is also required for surgeries necessary for common complications of Beta Thalassemia Major like enlarged spleens and gallbladders.
Please Donate Blood
Despite COVID restrictions and the potential for anemia, people living with Beta Thalassemia Minor can and should donate blood if they are able. In some cases, donor banks will refer patients who suffer from the disorder to give blood through their primary care office to ensure that any anemia is under control and managed before donating blood.
Once blood levels are rebalanced, giving blood could save the life of someone who suffers from a more extreme version of Thalassemia.
Can Thalassemia Minor Donate Bone Marrow?
While blood donations are vital to life-saving efforts around the country and the world, bone marrow donations are restricted from those living with Thalassemia. Since the disorder often requires bone marrow transplants for a healthy recovery, it is not recommended by either the World Health Organization or the Gift of Life Marrow Registry that anyone with Thalassemia be approved to donate marrow.