In addition to the severe beta thalassemias, hematologists have begun to recognize the more severe forms of alpha thalassemia, namely hemoglobin (Hb) H disease and Hb H/Hb Constant Spring, as well as the beta compound heterozygote, beta thalassemia/HbE. Clinically, variably severe anemia becomes apparent in the first year accompanied by occasionally massive expansion of erythropoiesis. The most anemic patients require regular red blood cell transfusions to avoid death from cardiac failure. However, the inevitable iron accumulation leads to dysfunction, primarily involving the heart, liver, and endocrine system; thus, regularly transfused patients require iron chelation. A major discovery was that allogeneic bone marrow (stem cell) transplantation in severely affected subjects with both alpha and beta thalassemia could result in cure. Current work deals with specific complications, such as iron overload and endocrine, cardiopulmonary, thrombophilic, and osteopenic problems. The thalassemias are likely to benefit in the future from specific gene therapy. There are also important advances in genetic counseling based on results of early fetal diagnosis.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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