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What Is Thalassemia Minor?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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:

  • Fatigue 
  • Pale or pallid skin 
  • Slow growth 
  • Weak or brittle bones 
  • Enlarged spleen 

Anemia Treatment 

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:

  • Infection 
  • Iron overload 
  • Bone deformities 
  • Heart problems 
  • Abdominal swelling 
  • Dark or painful urine 
  • Jaundice 

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.

Blood Shortages 

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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon943695 — On Apr 03, 2014

I have thalassemia minor. it was passed on to me by my mum and I have no symptoms whatsoever.

I have two cousins -- my aunt's daughters (mum's sister's daughters).

One of them is very active and the other one is usually calm, lazy and exhausted.

When we all went for the test, everyone in our family was prejudging that the lazy one would have Thalassemia minor, but guess what? When the results came out it was discovered that the daughter who is always active, involved in sports, adventure, etc. has Thalessemia Minor, whereas the lazy one was free of Thalessemia.

So you never know until you are tested. Get tested!

By anon338545 — On Jun 15, 2013

@anon177032: You are right. I have the same problems sometimes, like after waking up there is no energy in my body and even after a long sleep I don't feel refreshed and have headaches sometimes. But it happens with me sometimes, not always. My doctor advised me to take a Folic Acid supplement. Is anyone already using folic acid?

By anon334519 — On May 13, 2013

If you have been diagnosed with thalassemia minor, I would suggest seeing a hematologist regularly. General practitioners are not specialists in treating thalassemia. You may have low hemoglobin and low iron or low hemoglobin and normal to high iron. A ferritin level should be completed to check iron levels. I have had thalassemia minor my whole life with a hemoglobin around 10; however many thalassemia minors have hemoglobin that is lower.

By anon329242 — On Apr 08, 2013

I am a Chinese and I too have beta TM. I discovered it only in my late 40s. I noticed that when I was young, my mom used to give me Korean ginseng to drink, prepared by scooping about about half a small cup of boiling rice water and adding about three to five pieces of thinly sliced Korean ginseng into the cup and then leaving it in the rice pot while the rice continue to cook. I was given this to drink about once a month. This helped to give me energy and sustained me. None of my other siblings were given this herb. I was the anemic one in my family.

By the way, you can buy Korean ginseng extract and take a small pea sized piece each time with lukewarm water.

In my 50s, a friend recommended that I try what the Chinese called blue dates boiled with dong sum (a popular kind of herbal root among the Chinese), red dates and wolfberry. This too helped and today, whenever I feel my energy level drop, I will boil this concoction to drink.

By anon326555 — On Mar 22, 2013

I had been having these sharp, stabbing chest pains off and on for the past year, especially when under a lot of stress. I was recently diagnosed with alpha thalassemia minor.

I have always been slightly anemic and been really sensitive to some polluted cities so it makes sense. I have been taking reishi spore oil capsules for a few months though, and I don't have the pains anymore and I just recently took a trip to the city and did not experience any of the swelling and fatigue I normally have.

Reishi Oil is pretty expensive, but I also found oxygen enzyme drops like cell food worked well in the past too. I just find I am pretty sensitive to supplements or pollution, etc. If I eat poorly, I feel like crap. If I go all green, with fresh juices, etc., I feel a super rush -- almost too much at first. So I think it's all in the way you treat your body, and just be more aware of your exercise routine, and dietary needs.

By anon318450 — On Feb 07, 2013

My mom had thalassemia minor beta. I was always told that I was anemic. Well, my blood level was a 6. I was put on iron pills, took them for a year and the pills raised it to a 7 one time then it fell back down to a 6 again. They were doing me no good. The doctor did tests and the first thing he asked me if I was from the Mediterranean. I said no, but maybe my grandfather was. I never knew him or anything about him. It was passed down to my mom and then to me and I think my daughter may have it.

He told me to stop taking the iron pills, that they might do more harm than good and there was nothing that was going to make the iron blood count higher than it is. The doctor said that it's inherited and there's nothing I can do about it. If it gets worse, then blood transfusions are in order, but he did say over and over, too much iron is like a normal person's number for people with thalassemia.

By anon317419 — On Feb 02, 2013

I had a diagnoses of thalassemia when I had my second child. They didn't tell me the type tho they just said at some point I would need a blood transfusion and then gave me prescription iron pills since they are a higher dose. So what do I do to find out the type I have? They said it wasn't bad enough to refer me to a hematologist, but then I still feel crappy every day. This diagnosis made sense, though. I fainted about two times as a teen. I'm now 24.

I had enlarged organs like my spleen and liver and experienced pain from it and before being diagnosed with that, when they told me my liver and spleen were enlarged, I asked the doctor what it meant and she said well, basically there was nothing I could do, that it wasn't a big deal and I asked myself how can this be? Of course it's a big deal. I'm a healthy person. I eat healthy, take care of my body and I have this. I don't know how to get help, The pain, the lack of sleep with two kids and the fatigue gives me headaches and I have chest pains like my heart sometimes beats so fast I can see it beating through my skin and it scares me. Help!

By Rosalyn41 — On Jan 02, 2013

Well I got into a big discussion about TM yesterday with a cousin telling me I needed to get checked because my dad’s two brothers and cousin have it and my mother is borderline anemic. I guess I was wrong about not needing to get it checked.

I’m a 41 year old divorced mother of three older teens and I’ve been tired more than the average (occasionally a nap helps rejuvenate me) and also have cold hands and feet constantly. I’ve fainted before and my eldest daughter has fainted, too. Ten years ago I changed my diet and added more exercise due to feminine problems, but it appears from reading all these posts that TM may be the underlying problem.

Two things I can really attest to are drinking plenty of water and eating healthy gives me more energy. I’ve had my colon and gallbladder checked (I just recently got enlightened about TM. Eleven years ago all my dad’s side said was to take B12 and Folic Acid but no in-depth information was provided), because this pain wouldn’t go away but as soon as I added more green leafy food to my diet and I feel better along with eating Greek yogurt daily or almost daily.

Almost every morning I have a healthy smoothie along with anything else I want for breakfast in moderation. My smoothie consists of half fruit and half vegetables, like fresh spinach, fresh kale, some raisins, strawberries or frozen strawberries, bananas, apples, and no sugar. Two out of my three teens enjoy it. I can’t please everyone.

By anon306928 — On Dec 02, 2012

I was diagnosed with thalassemia when I was 18 years old when I was trying to enter the Argentine Air Force, and they kicked me out quickly. Over the years, different doctors told me stupid things like "you need to consume more iron" (?). Now I'm 26 years old, and I have several blood problems. Apart form the fatigue, tiredness, lack of concentration and other symptoms, my spleen has hurt for several months, and I have blood circulation problems (I read that the iron stuck in the heart like cholesterol).

But I discovered something: heating natural garlic in the food kicks away (in some percentage) some of these issues. I don't know how. Maybe it kicks the iron out of the heart or something like that. So, if some of you experiment as I do, I recommend trying garlic for a week and see if it is better.

By anon295652 — On Oct 07, 2012

I'm 12 and have Thalassemia Minor. I'm fairly certain I got it from my mom, but I don't know. When I was younger, I had pneumonia about seven times, a seizure, RSV, and part of my left lung collapsed (I also had a kidney problem). I'm fine now, but I recently found out about Thalassemia.

I have tons of questions, and haven't really noticed any problems. My family talks about how I need iron and whatnot, but other than that, I haven't really heard of anything else until now. I don't have cold hands, but my feet are always cold. If anyone knows anything else, just say something! I have questions!

By anon282094 — On Jul 27, 2012

Thalassemia Minor non symptomatic is a joke. Try existing daily with constant fatigue and every move being an effort. I'm noticing that many individuals with TM have suffered gallbladder issues. I'm curious if there is a connection. The trait was passed onto me by my father and both of us have had gallbladder problems. My father's were unfortunately so bad he died from complications.

By anon277521 — On Jun 30, 2012

I was born jaundiced and anemic, and I wasn't diagnosed with thalassemia minor until I was 27 years old. At that time, I was pregnant and underwent gallbladder surgery. Post surgery, I had two transfusions, after which I had more energy than I could remember in my life. That energy, however, was short-lived, and my body returned to its usual chronic fatigue.

I'm now 67 years old, and I've had to force myself to function throughout my years of career work, marriage and parenthood. Having been retired for almost 10 years now, I've done some traveling, but not without my usual fatigue accompanying me on my trips (and always upon returning home, I feel for days as though I've been run over by a truck!).

I totally empathize with all those who have posted here.

By anon267087 — On May 08, 2012

If you have questions about Thalassemia and are not finding a knowledgeable physician to test/treat you, please contact the Cooley's Anemia Foundation and ask for their recommendation for a doctor in your area, also there are some great internet resources.

By anon262450 — On Apr 19, 2012

"cold feet and hands, anemia, constant fatigue, horrible stamina, all from thalassemia minor."

So true! There is no real "treatment" for Thalassemia Minor. I had surgery a few years ago and before the surgery they checked my levels. I was quite low and so they gave me a few units of blood.

I go for another surgery (just knee surgery - nothing serious) next week and they will do the same. Unfortunately, I just got over having my period and I am sure my levels will be low again. I will probably need another transfusion.

I am 32 years old and I have a normal life. I work hard, am married (no children but not due to the Thalassemia) and travel. The only difference is that I am constantly tired. I sleep about 10 hours at night and that gives me enough energy for the day. I also eat smaller meals full of fiber and iron throughout the day which also helps. If I eat a big meal, it just makes me more tired.

I try to walk about 2.5 miles a few times a week and this also helps with the energy levels.

At times I get so tired that I literally need to sleep immediately. This has happened just a few times over the last 10 years. The worst time was when we were walking through New York City at night in November a few years back. I had to sit down against a building and my husband stood watch while I slept for about 20 minutes. Usually I can sleep in my car on a break if it gets bad enough during a work day.

Thankfully my husband is completely understanding.

By amypollick — On Jan 23, 2012

A doctor specializing in travel health would probably be best able to answer concerns about thalassemia minor and traveling to high altitudes. Remember: a modern jet cabin is pressurized to about 5,000 feet. I don't have any such conditions, but at 9,600 feet in Colorado, I got pretty winded pretty quickly. Talk to a doctor.

By anon242463 — On Jan 23, 2012

RE: Curious. Is there a magic number as to how high of an altitude you can travel to without complications? I am hoping to travel to Peru and Machu Picchu, but I don't know if that's possible because I have Thalassemia Minor.

I have also thalassemia and I haven't experienced problems during the flights. I'm sure that some of theme were about 10,000 meters - the pilot usually says this. I've traveled a lot in my life. If the flight is long you may feel tired as the rest of the passengers I think, so drink a lot of water and eat fruit.

By anon192372 — On Jul 01, 2011

My son is 18 years old and has thalassemia minor. Last year he had jaundice and his bilirubin count reached 6. He got all tests done and his liver is OK, gradually, the bilirubin went to 3 and then he went home. After a year he still looks yellow and his bilirubin is 6. How can his bilirubin come to normal? What precautions can be taken? Please, anybody, help!

By anon177032 — On May 17, 2011

all of you that have Thalassemia minor make up your mind, no one will ever tell you what the hell to do to fight with this terrible feeling of constant fatigue, no one will ever understand this fatigue of yours.

the periods of time when normal people also feel a bit sleepy because of humidity on the air, or slow changing of seasons are the worst. I cannot get up of the bed in the morning. My brain does not function very well either, and I am nervous all day.

I feel desperate when i try to check on the internet for new treatments discovered or anything new that medicine has discovered and i discover nothing new. They say Minor Thalassemia has no symptoms which is also irritating and offensive. Is it my bad diagnostics (i do not have Thalassemia minor at all but something else?) or do all of you feel the same?

By anon156157 — On Feb 25, 2011

whoever says thalassemia minor is non symptomatic is dead wrong and ignorant. cold feet and hands, anemia, constant fatigue, horrible stamina, all from thalassemia minor.

By anon142274 — On Jan 12, 2011

Curious. Is there a magic number as to how high of an altitude you can travel to without complications? I am hoping to travel to Peru and Machu Picchu, but I don't know if that's possible because I have Thalassemia Minor.

By anon125620 — On Nov 10, 2010

I have Thalassemia minor and have known about it all my life. There are no reasons why you cannot lead a normal, healthy life. The only problem will be the deficiency in iron - without good iron levels your body gets tired more than the average person. You also need iron in your body to help with the healing/immune process.

Now if you have Thalassemia minor and you create a child with a partner that also has Thalassemia minor, there is a very high chance the child will be born with Thalassemia Major. I actually have a friend with the Major type, and she has to take regular daily medication and have monthly blood transfusions. There is a lot of medical support today for this blood disorder.

In history the life expectancy of someone with Thalassemia major was about 20 years old. These days if you take your medication and have regular transfusions an check ups you will live a normal long life. But as for Thalassemia minor, just eat healthy, keep your iron levels up and when you're tired, sleep! Your body really needs it.

By anon122160 — On Oct 26, 2010

my seven year old son was diagnosed having thalassemia minor. I'm eager to know more about this and its possible complications.

By anon111347 — On Sep 16, 2010

I'm a housewife and a mother of two children. during my first pregnancy i came to know that i have thalassemia minor. at that point it was 2-3 percent but at this time it is 11-13 percent. What is that? it increases day by day.

By anon84794 — On May 17, 2010

if it's minor- (which is what I have) you child is just a carrier of the trait and is non symptomatic.

By anon67578 — On Feb 25, 2010

my two year old child is having thalassemia minor. i want to know about the treatment, and the near future results of it. please help.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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