Thalassemia – A Fatal Disease Which Is Yet-To-Be-Fought-With
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Thalassemia basically is a blood disease in which body starts making an abnormal form of hemoglobin. A defect in any chain of hemoglobin molecules causes destruction of red blood cells which causes anemia. Hemoglobin is made of two proteins, Alpha and Beta globin. So Thalassemia is also classified into: Alpha Thalassemia (occurs if alpha protein is missing or changed) and Beta Thalassemia (occurs when similar gene defects production of the beta protein).
There are many forms of Thalassemia and each type has many different subtypes. Moreover, both alpha and beta are also further divided into Thalassemia two forms: Thalassemia major and Thalassemia minor.
Alpha Thalassemia major can cause death of unborn baby whereas children born with Beta Thalassemia major are normal at birth but develop severe anemia during first few years of their life.
Persons with the minor form of alpha and beta Thalassemia have small red blood cells with no symptoms. Other symptoms of Thalassemia are bone deformities in the face, fatigue, growth failure, yellow skin and shortness of breath. Also people who are only called carriers don’t need any treatment.
As for the cure or treatment, there are three standard treatments for severe forms of Thalassemia: Blood transfusions, Iron chelation therapy and Folic acid supplements. Blood transfusion gives you healthy red blood cells with normal hemoglobin but these cells can only live for 120 days, so one may need more blood transfusions after specific time period.
A blood transfusion varies from age to age of a person. As the age of a person increases, the time period of these transfusions goes down. Children till 7 to 8 years of their age need blood transfusion every month. With the age going beyond eight, the risk factor mounts alarmingly, putting the patient into the need of having transfusion twice and sometimes four times a month.
Blood transfusion may cause lever and heart problems as it leads to buildup of iron in the blood. So to prevent this damage Iron chelation therapy is needed to remove excess iron from the body.
In addition to these two treatments, Folic acid/ B vitamin is also helpful to build healthy red blood cells. A stem cell transplant is the only treatment that can cure Thalassemia equal to 85% but it is a risky procedure since it is very difficult to find a good donor.
Now-a-days, scientists are developing and testing different cures for this yet-to-be-fought-with ailment. With whatever development so for, the fact remains that Thalassemia is a huge big challenge for the mankind.
By Hafsa Amjad