What is thalassaemia?
Thalassaemia is a group of inherited blood disorders found in many countries around the world. It can most commonly be found in people of Mediterranean, North African, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Southeast Asian descent. It is rarely found in the Northern European population.
Beta thalassaemia major is the most common type.
Thalassaemia causes a lack in the production of haemoglobin. This is needed by red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body. This can lead to those with Thalassaemia becoming very anaemic and requiring regular blood transfusions.
Having thalassaemia major is different to being a carrier, also known as having the thalassaemia trait,
What does it mean carry thalassaemia?
A carrier will always be a carrier, and no on can catch it from them. They inherited thalassaemia from one of their parents and could pass it on to their children.
A carrier of thalassaemia is a healthy person, most beta thalassaemia carriers are unaware they have the gene.
Beta thalassaemia carriers have smaller red blood cells than usual. This can sometimes be mistaken for iron deficiency anaemia and iron is prescribed. Thalassaemia carriers should not take iron tablets unless they need to as its puts them at risk of iron overload.
How could carrying beta thalassaemia affect your child?
If you are a beta thalassaemia carrier and your partner doesn’t carry any blood disorder, then there is no problem for your child, however, in each pregnancy there is a 50% chance of the child also carrying beta thalassaemia.
If both of you are beta thalassaemia carriers, then there is a 25% chance that you could have a child with beta thalassaemia major.
A child with beta thalassaemia major suffers from severe anaemia which can be life-threatening, treatment is lifelong.
What to do if they are thinking of having children?
If they are thinking of having children, they should inform their partner they are carriers of beta thalassaemia and ask him or her to have a blood test “for haemoglobin disorders”.
This test should be done before they start a pregnancy or as soon as possible once a pregnancy has started. This can be arranged by your GP. If their partner is not a carrier there is nothing to worry about.
If their partner is a carrier, they should ask their GP for an immediate appointment with a specialist counsellor. This is particularly important if they have already started a pregnancy. They can also contact the counselling service directly at the project.
If a carrier has siblings or already has children, they need to be made aware they may also carry beta thalassaemia. They should ask their GP to arrange family screening.