In the United States, thalassemia is mostly diagnosed in people of Mediterranean decent: Italian, Greek and Southeastern Asiatics, Cambodians and Laotians. Thalassemia is an inherited anemia which results in decreased production of hemoglobin. This disease occurs in two forms.
The Thalassemia trait is mild anemia resulting from a person inheriting one thalassemia gene. The individuals with the trait has no symptoms and does not become ill. Five percent of Americans with Greek and Italian ancestors have the trait.
Thalassemia Major or Cooley’s Anemia occurs when an individual inherits two thalassemia genes, one from each parent. The anemia is so severe that regular blood transfusions are necessary every four to five weeks. These transfusions make it possible for the child to be generally well through childhood. The side affects of the blood transfusions is a build up of iron. Excess iron damages the pancreas, resulting in diabetes. It can also damage the heart causing heart failure and death.
The treatment for the iron overload is the drug desferal. This drug must be injected over an eight to ten hour span using a battery driven pump. The injections are administered five to six nights weekly.
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