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Thalassaemia

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What is thalassemia?

If you have thalassemia, you have an abnormal type of haemoglobin – the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen.

This destroys more of your red blood cells than normal, leading to anaemia, which can cause fatigue, headaches and concentration problems. Sometimes it can cause more serious symptoms like shortness of breath. 

Thalassaemia is genetic, meaning that the genes that cause it are passed on from your parents. Roughly 7% of people are thalassaemia carriers (also known as thalassaemia trait) but it’s only passed on to children if both parents are carriers.

You can find out more about thalassemia, including symptoms, diagnosis and treatments, on the Thalassaemia Society and NHS websites.

Facts about thalassaemia

  • Around 250 people a year are born with thalassaemia in the UK.
  • Routine screenings for thalassaemia are offered if you are pregnant.
  • There were 28 stem cell transplants in the UK to treat thalassaemia in 2020.

Thalassaemia and stem cell transplants

A stem cell transplant can help to treat some people with thalassaemia, but they are performed very rarely. Children with thalassaemia are more likely to be offered a stem cell transplant.

If you’re a parent who is supporting a child through a transplant, you can read our My child is having a transplant webpage for more information and support.

If a stem cell transplant is an option for you, it will likely be an allogeneic transplant – where your new stem cells are donated from an unrelated donor.

Information published: 16/02/22
Next review due: 
16/02/23

Related links

Preparing for a stem cell transplant

Having a stem cell transplant

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