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Thalassaemia

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Thalassaemia is the most common inherited blood disorder in the world and it affects the production of haemoglobin, resulting in severe anaemia in those affected. The red blood cells of a person with Thalassaemia only survive a few weeks instead of four months so they require ongoing blood transfusions and treatments to remove the excess iron from their blood. The disorder is passed from parent to child.

Thalassaemia mostly affects those with ancestry from Southern Europe, India, Africa, Middle East and Asia. It is usually diagnosed in children in the first six months of life and can be fatal in early childhood without ongoing, lifelong treatment.

Many people are carriers and have what is called Thalassaemia minor. These people are healthy and the only way to know if they have the gene is to do a blood test. The concern arrises when two cariers have children. The chance of their child having Thalassaemia major (the serious illness) is one in four. Because Thalassaemia can be so devastating women are increasingly tested for the gene and if found positive their partners are tested as well. Ideally this testing should be done in couples before planning to start a family.  If a couple is pregnant and both are carriers they may opt for prenatal testing to determine if the baby will have the disease.

Published 3/8/12

Dr Hannah Dahlen is the Associate Professor of Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney. She has been a midwife for more than 20 years. Hannah is also an executive member of the Australian College of Midwives, NSW Branch. She has researched women's birth experiences at home and in hospital and published extensively in this area. Hannah's website is www.hannahdahlen.com.au

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Sarah Burton
Aug 6, 2012 10:04am [ 1 ]

For more information for carriers of thalassaemia and its different types are available on our website for download. This website also contains fact sheets in a number of different languages.

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