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Thalassemia is a blood disorder that runs in families. It can leave you tired all the time. We're here to help.

Thalassemia Treatment at UVA Health

At UVA Health, you'll find experts who specialize in treating this condition. These experts are known as hematology/oncologists.

If you have a severe form that causes anemia, you'll find all the treatment options at UVA Health. These include:

Blood Transfusions

Blood transfusions help provide healthy new red blood cells.

But repeated blood transfusions can lead to high levels of iron in the blood. We can prescribe certain medications that bind to the iron. You'll then pee it out so it doesn't damage the heart, liver, and other vital organs.

Bone Marrow Transplant

UVA Health has extensive experience with bone marrow transplants. This procedure injects you with healthy stem cells from a donor's bone marrow. The new cells travel through the blood into the bone cavities. There, they can produce new normal blood cells. This can cure some people.


Thalassemia can cause the spleen to enlarge. An enlarged spleen can make anemia worse. We can do a splenectomy to remove the spleen. It may help reduce the number of blood transfusions you need.

Two Main Types of Thalassemia

This disorder cuts down the amount of red blood cells and hemoglobin that the body can make. Low levels of red blood cells and hemoglobin can lead to anemia. Anemia can result in a low level of oxygen in the body. This interferes with your normal functions.

Thalassemias fall into two main categories, based on the part of hemoglobin affected:

  • Alpha thalassemia: based on the alpha part of hemoglobin
  • Beta thalassemia: based on the beta part of hemoglobin

Hemoglobin needs four genes, two from each parent. The number of faulty genes determines the severity of your condition. To diagnosis your condition, we'll measure the amount of hemoglobin, iron, and red blood cells in your blood.

Signs of Mild to Severe Thalassemia  

Silent carriers will have no symptoms. For others, symptoms most often begin within 3-6 months of birth.

Mild or moderate anemia may cause:

  • Feeling weak and tired
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness or headaches
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Pale skin

Severe anemia may cause:

  • Lack of interest in activity
  • Pale appearance
  • Poor appetite/feeding
  • Dark urine
  • Jaundice

General symptoms of thalassemia include:

  • Slow growth and delayed puberty
  • Enlarged and fragile bones, including:
    • Thickening and roughening of facial bones
    • Bones that break
    • Teeth that don't line up

Thalassemia can also lead to complications such as:

  • Increased risk of developing infections
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Heart failure
  • Liver problems

At UVA Health, you'll find experts to help you manage any complication so you can enjoy life more.