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Thalassemia in Pregnancy


By Dr Joe Kabyemela, MD

Thalassemias is one of the conditions collectively called hemoglobinopathies. The name is derived by virtue of the fact that  the problem is with the oxygen-carrying blood pigment called hemoglobin. Another common hemoglobinopathy is Sickle Cell Disease.

The hemoglobin produced in these conditions is defective. This leads to chronic conditions characterized by anemia and other health problems, to varying degrees, depending on the severity of the defect.

Hemoglobinopathies are genetic conditions and therefore are of special interest where pregnancy is concerned. The parents will want to know the prospects for their child, as far as the condition is concerned. For some, at least, there is also a serious question of whether they can safely embark upon a pregnancy.


Hemoglobinopathies are serious conditions, the control of which has improved a lot over the last few decades. They are complex syndromes with a number of sub-types. It is important that a prospective mother with any of these is treated during her pregnancy at a center where there is the necessary expertise and experience..


There is ethnic preponderance for each of these conditions. Beta-Thalassemia is found mostly in people of Mediterranean origin. It follows therefore that in those areas where you don't find many migrants from that part of the world, the doctors will inevitably lack the experience of dealing with the problems associated with this condition.


Thalassemia is a group of genetic conditions where there is a defect which leads to reduced oxygen carrying pigment (hemoglobin) within the red blood-cells. The direct consequence of this is anemia (low hemoglobin).


Who is at risk of Thalassemia?

There are various sub-types of Thalassemia. These conditions are found among people from all parts of the world. There are areas where a particular sub-type will be more common than others.


Being a genetic condition means one either has Thalassemia at birth or not. It cannot be acquired in any way later in life.


Can Thalassemia be acquired through blood transfusion?

Definitely not. Nor can it be acquired any other way. Genetic conditions are passed from parents to children. If a child is born without a particular condition, in this case Thalassemia; there is no way he or she will get it later on in life.


Types of "Thalassemia"

Actually, there are only two main types of Thalassemia, which are further subdivided into sub-groups. This is on the basis of the complexity of the genetic defect. We shall concentrate on the two main groups.













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