Thalassemia in Pregnancy: Symptoms & Treatment

4 min read

Health complications during pregnancy are not unheard of. Though a pregnant woman takes good care of her health, diet, etc, there are things beyond her control. Thalassemia in pregnancy is one such condition she has no control over.

thalassemia and pregnancy

What is Thalassemia in Pregnancy?

Thalassemia in pregnancy is a condition where the red blood cells produced in the body are low and in turn, affects the hemoglobin level in the blood. When the hemoglobin level is too low, it can result in anemia.

For a pregnant woman who is creating a whole new human being inside her, the hemoglobin level is very important.

What are the Symptoms?

Are you wondering if you have thalassemia in pregnancy?

Some of the symptoms are:

  • Dark urine
  • Yellow or pale skin
  • Slow growth
  • Deformed facial bones
  • Feeling tired (more than usual during pregnancy)
  • Feeling breathless

Since thalassemia leads to a drop in hemoglobin levels, the symptoms are similar to anemia. Many pregnant women suffer from low hemoglobin levels. Hence it is easy to get thalassemia and pregnancy-related anemia confused.

Reason for Thalassemia in Pregnancy:

So, what are the causes for thalassemia in pregnancy? Can it be avoided?

Sadly, the answer is no, it cannot be avoided. This is because thalassemia is a genetically inherited condition. Women with a family history of thalassemia are at a higher risk of suffering from thalassemia in pregnancy.

Sometimes, in rare cases where a gene mutation occurs, parents can pass on defective genes to the fetus. Hence a parent without thalassemia in pregnancy can still pass down a gene change that can lead to improper functioning of the gene, thus resulting in thalassemia in pregnancy.

The only way to know if you are indeed suffering from thalassemia in pregnancy is to get a carrier screening test. Your partner and you can both get checked for thalassemia to ensure you are not passing it down to the fetus. This test can not only ascertain if you have thalassemia itself but can also find out if you have the defective gene that can be passed on and result in thalassemia during pregnancy.

What are the Types of Thalassemia in Pregnancy?

A carrier screening test for thalassemia can show what type of thalassemia the pregnant woman has (if there are symptoms and signs that she, in fact, has thalassemia).

1. Alpha Thalassemia Pregnancy:

Every human has four genes that help his body make Alpha-Globin. We get two from each of our parents. Alpha thalassemia is a condition where there is a change in the alpha-globin.

Alpha thalassemia is of four kinds, namely:

  • Carrier:

When there is an alpha thalassemia gene change or a gene is missing, it results in this type of thalassemia in pregnancy. This makes your fetus a carrier of thalassemia, meaning it can be passed on to the next generation. However, one may not show any symptoms of thalassemia.

  • Alpha Thalassemia Minor:

Also known as a thalassemia trait, happens when there are two genes missing or gene changes. When it comes to thalassemia minor and pregnancy, sometimes mild symptoms of anemia can be seen.

  • Haemoglobin H Disease:

When there are three genes missing or gene changes, this type occurs. Your fetus, once born, might feel anemic and might also develop complications later.

  • Alpha Thalassemia Major:

When there are four missing genes or gene changes this kind of alpha thalassemia, also known as hydrops fetalis, occurs. This is by far the most serious kind of thalassemia that can even result in stillbirth.

Thalassemia test

2. Beta Thalassemia Pregnancy:

Beta Globin is made by two genes that are derived from each parent. When there are changes in genes that make this beta-globin, it can cause beta-thalassemia.

The three variations of beta-thalassemia are:

  • Beta Thalassemia Minor:

This is also known as the beta-thalassemia trait. It happens when there is just one gene change. You may have mild anemia or no symptoms at all. This gene can be passed on to your fetus.

  • Beta Thalassemia Intermedia:

When there are two gene changes this type of beta-thalassemia occurs. Most times this can cause mild anemia.

  • Beta Thalassemia Major:

When there are two gene changes, this type of thalassemia, also known as Cooley’s Anemia, can occur. If not treated in time, this serious type of thalassemia can cause a lot of complications. Unfortunately, this can be passed on to your fetus too. When affected by beta-thalassemia major, one can look normal initially but might develop complications such as liver, bone, or heart problems, later in life.

What is the Best Treatment?

If you or your children have thalassemia, the best treatment you might be suggested is a blood transfusion. Some of the other treatments that can be suggested are iron chelation therapy or a bone marrow transplant.

Pregnancy is a tricky period to treat any disease. The simple reason is that the body undergoes a lot of changes during pregnancy and it is very difficult to ascertain the levels of various hormones and other components in the body.

If you are at risk of developing or already have thalassemia, one of the go-to treatments your doctor would opt for is prescribing folic acid supplements. Folic acid is very important for a healthy pregnancy and thus is generally prescribed for all pregnant women.

Unless there have been cases of thalassemia or thalassemia in pregnancy in your family, or your doctor suspects it, you need not worry about this health complication in pregnancy.

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