The Mediterranean anaemia is an inherited blood disorder with a consequence of less haemoglobin and smaller number of red blood cells than normal.
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Thalassemia got its name after Greek words "thalassa" - sea, and "haema" - blood. "The blood disease from the sea", the Mediterranean anaemia, is spread among Mediterranean people, mainly in Greece and Italy, and islands Sicily, Sardinia, Malta, Corsica, Cyprus and Crete. The Mediterranean anaemia also found its way to North Africa, Middle East and South Asia.
In some areas, such as Maldives, 18 percent of populations have genetic disorder which will be inherited by their children. Contrary to some beliefs in the past, there is just one way to get this disorder and that is to inherit one or more defective genes from parents.
Every person gets genes from parents, six of them that control the production of haemoglobin and red blood cells, and more defective genes mean more serious disorder. For example, just one defective gene will cause no problems at all, while all defective genes mean death shortly after birth.
So, if you have fewer red cells, your body can't carry enough oxygen and you feel tired and fatigued, and you can also have symptoms such as weakness, short breath, pale skin, jaundice, facial bone deformities, and dark urine. The symptoms of the Mediterranean anaemia are discovered in the first two years, sometimes right at birth, sometimes later, but they are discovered early.
People with the Mediterranean anaemia can have too much iron in their blood and that causes serious damage to heart, liver and endocrine system. The side-effect in people who need frequent transfusions is the risk of related dangerous infections such as hepatitis. In the severe form of thalassemia other ugly symptoms can occur and they include bone deformities, enlarged spleen, slower growth and problems with heart.
The doctor will diagnose thalassemia very easily: he will count your red blood cells. If there's a smaller number of them he will perform DNA analysis and disorder will be confirmed very quickly.
In the case of mild thalassemia a little treatment is needed, and in some cases no treatment at all. Sometimes the patient needs a blood transfusion, especially after the surgery or having a baby.
In the case of moderate to severe thalassemia frequent blood transfusions are required, usually more than ten times a year. Those transfusions build iron in blood and patient must take drugs that destroy iron. In some cases, a bone marrow transplant may be used to treat severe case. The bad news here is that this procedure is very risky (a patient can die), so it's reserved for people with the most severe disease.
If you have thalassemia, follow these simple rules: avoid vitamins and food supplements that contain iron, and eat healthy food. Tea is a good thing because tannins prevent iron to be absorbed in the gut. And one more important advice: avoid infections. Avoid sick people and wash your hands frequently and take a flu shot. If you notice any symptom of an infection, go and see your doctor. ■