Treatment for thalassemia depends on which type of thalassemia you have and the severity of your symptoms. If you have no or only mild symptoms, you may need little or no treatment.
Treatment for moderate to severe forms of thalassemia often includes regular blood transfusions and folate supplements. Folate (also called folic acid) helps your body make healthy blood cells. Alpha thalassemia can sometimes be mistaken for low-iron anemia, and iron supplements may be recommended as a treatment. But iron supplements have no effect on thalassemia.
If you have many blood transfusions, too much iron may build up in your blood. If this happens, you will need chelation (say: "key-LAY-shun") therapy to remove extra iron from your body. You shouldn’t take iron supplements if you receive blood transfusions.
In the most severe cases, bone marrow or stem cell transplants may help by replacing damaged cells with healthy ones from a donor (usually a relative such as a brother or sister).
How can I cope with thalassemia?
Although you can’t prevent inheriting thalassemia, you can manage the disease so you can have the best quality of life possible. Key steps include:
- Follow your treatment plan. Get blood transfusions as often as your doctor recommends. Make sure to take your iron chelation medicine and/or folic acid supplements.
- Get ongoing medical care. Have regular medical checkups and get the medical tests your doctor suggests. These may include tests relating to thalassemia, as well as your overall health. Be sure to get any vaccinations for flu, pneumonia, hepatitis B and meningitis that your doctor recommends.
- Take care of yourself. Follow a healthy eating plan. Lower your chance of getting an infection by washing your hands often, and avoiding crowds during flu and cold season. Keep the area around your transfusion site clean. Call your doctor if you develop a fever or other signs of infection.
- Look for information and support. Join a support group or talk with others who have the disease to learn coping strategies. Be sure to discuss any changes in your treatment plan with your doctor.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff