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Thalassemia is an inherited problem. That means it is passed down from one or both parents through their genes. It affects the production of normal hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the tissues of the body.
Thalassemia includes a number of different forms of anemia, including the alpha thalassemias. The severity and type of anemia depends on how many genes are affected.
Alpha thalassemia is caused by errors in the alpha chain of the hemoglobin molecule.
Normally, there are 2 alpha genes on each #16 chromosome. There is a total of 4 genes; 2 from each parent.
How these genes are changed determines the type of alpha thalassemia in a person:
Symptoms of alpha thalassemia will vary, based on which type is inherited. Common symptoms may include:
Alpha thalassemia is most commonly found in:
Carrier status can be suggested by the following:
All of these tests can be done on a single blood sample. Prenatal diagnosis is done with CVS (chorionic villus sampling) or amniocentesis. Confirmation of alpha thalassemia requires DNA test.
Your health care provider will figure out the best treatment based on:
Treatment may include:
People with alpha thalassemia may have no symptoms or many symptoms. If you do not have symptoms, you may still want to see a specialist. He or she can help you understand the risks of passing the disease to your children.
If you have symptoms, it is important to work with your health care provider to find the best treatment to minimize the symptoms of anemia.