Heart and Blood Conditions


What Is Thalassemia?

Thalassemia is a problem with red blood cells that is passed down from parents to children (genetic). It can cause anemia - low levels of red blood cells.

Red blood cells contain a protein called hemoglobin that carries oxygen around your child's body, dropping it off to cells that need it.

Children with thalassemia do not create enough hemoglobin. This may mean:

  • Their body does not make enough red blood cells to begin with.
  • Their red blood cells break down faster than normal.
  • Their red blood cells are smaller than normal.
  • They have less hemoglobin in their red blood cells than normal.

The most severe form of this condition is called Cooley anemia, also known as thalassemia major.

Thalassemia in Children

This disease is passed down from parents to children (genetic). The pattern is complex and can vary with the type of thalassemia.

In some cases, a parent with a mild form of the disease (thalassemia trait) passes it to a child. In other cases, the child gets a gene for thalassemia from both parents and has a more severe form of the disease.

This disease is more common in people whose ancestors came from Southeast Asia, India, China, Philippines, Africa and the Mediterranean.

Thalassemia at Seattle Children's

At Children's Hospital, we offer a full range of services to diagnose and treat this disease.

We can also counsel parents who have this disease and want to know more about their risk of passing it down to their children (called genetic counseling).

For children with a more severe type of the disease, we follow them regularly to check their growth, their spleen size and the severity of their anemia.

Keeping track of their health in this way helps ensure they get the care they need before more serious problems develop.

Read more about our experience and treatment of blood diseases through our Hematology Program.