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Can You Take Iron If You Have Thalassemia?

Thalassemia is inherited hemoglobin disorder characterized by decreased or no synthesis of alpha or beta globin chain of hemoglobin resulting in alpha thalassemia or beta thalassemia respectively.[1]

Can You Take Iron If You Have Thalassemia?

Can You Take Iron If You Have Thalassemia?

Patients with Thalassemia are often incorrectly diagnosed to be anemic due to iron deficiency. With no better improvement in health, the differential diagnosis of Thalassemia is performed. WHO recommends doctors to assess the prevalence of iron deficiency in patients with the low-income group;[2] Thalassemia patients can be given iron supplements only if the serum iron concentration and total iron binding capacity levels indicate the deficiency of iron. Supplements of iron do not improve any health condition or quality of life in patients with thalassemia. Only an experienced doctor can guide you about the iron requirement in thalassemia.[3]

The main treatment option for patients with Thalassemia is a blood transfusion.[4] This helps patients to live a normal life and follow the daily routine. The frequency of transfusion varies from 2-4 weeks depending upon the patient’s condition. Although blood transfusion is the main treatment option, iron overload is a common problem.

The infusion of blood cells increases the lifespan and increase the quality of life of individuals.[5]

The Thalassemia can be classified based on the severity of the disease, mild, moderate or severe.

Treatment for mild thalassemia. People suffering from mild thalassemia have little or no symptoms. Patient suffering from mild thalassemia requires a blood transfusion to manage the complications caused due to thalassemia or after surgery.

Treatments for moderate to severe thalassemia. People suffering from moderate to severe thalassemia develop symptoms and complications of the disease; hence they require more than one treatment[6]

Blood Transfusions. As there will be faulty production of hemoglobin in such patients, frequent blood transfusions as early as in few weeks are required. Frequent blood transfusions result in iron built-up in the body which can result in damage to vital body organs such as the heart and liver, so frequent blood transfusions make it mandatory for the patients to take medicines to remove excess iron from the body.

Bone Marrow Transplantation Or Stem Cell Transplantation. This is a boon for children born with severe thalassemia. Bone marrow transplantation eliminates the need for blood transfusion for life and the medical interventions to take supplements to decrease iron overload in the body. Bone marrow transplantation allows production of normal red blood cells and eliminates the need for blood transfusion. Bone marrow transplantation is a procedure which involves the infusion of stem cells from a compatible donor which is usually a sibling to the suffering patient.[7]

How Iron Overload Happens In Patients With Thalassemia Receiving Blood Transfusions?

Patients suffering from either alpha or beta thalassemia often undergo blood transfusion which is the only treatment option for such patients. The red blood cells which are infused get broken down and release iron in the body. The excess iron causes damage to the organ; hence it is not advised to take iron in patients undergoing thalassemia. Instead, patients are given iron chelators to remove excess iron from the body. The medical science has increased the life expectancy and improves quality of life in patients suffering from thalassemia.[8]


Thalassemia carriers are often misdiagnosed for iron deficiency anemia because of the small size of red blood cells and are prescribed iron supplements. Carriers should be prescribed iron supplements after tests confirm iron deficiency. Trait carriers must not be infused with red blood cell unless blood tests such as serum iron or serum ferritin confirm iron deficiency. The red blood cells complete their lifespan and are broken down for excretion. The broken red blood cell releases iron into the bloodstream increases the iron concentration in the blood which is often referred to as iron overload. The excess iron gets circulated in the body getting deposited in major organs of the body resulting in organ failure and ultimately death of the patients.


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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 21, 2022

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