Classification of β-Thalassaemia

β-Thalassaemia is a term applied to describe heterozygous group of diseases that are characterised by a decrease in the production of β globin  chain. Over 200 mutations in the β-globin gene and promoter regions that cause β-thalassaemia have been recognised. Thalassaemic alleles that produce no β-chain are designated β0 and those producing some β chain are designated as β+.  Before the genetic basis of thalassaemia was understood the disease was classified according to the clinical presentation and natural history of the disease. The genetic defects need to be determined for prenatal diagnosis but the clinical patterns remains relevant for clinical management of β-thalassaemia.

Based of the severity of disease three patterns of disease have been identified, thalassaemia major, thalassaemia minor and thalassaemias intermedia

  1. Thalassaemia Major: Thalasaemia major is a transfusion dependent anaemia that usually appears early in life, often in the first year. Anaemia is associated with splenomegaly, skeletal deformities and growth retardation. Iron overload develops by the end of second decade unless chelation is used. Unless treated with blood transfusion and chelation or allogeneic stem cell transplant, it is a fatal illness. There is a severe impairment of β-chain synthesis. Genetically these patients may be β0β0, β0β+ or β+β+.
  2. Thalassaemia Minor: patients with thalassaemia minor are asymptomatic. They are diagnosed when a complete haemogram is performed as a part of antenatal care or as a pert of investigations of another illness. Genetically they me be β0β or β+β.
  3. Thalassaemia Intermedia: Thalassaemia intermedia has a clinical presentation between that of thalassaemia major and thalassaemia minor. It is a very heterogeneous condition. The patient is not transfusion dependent but anaemic with a low and stable haemoglobin. Transfusion may be needed during periods of stress like infection and pregnancy. Advancing age is also associated with transfusion requirement. This may in part be due to hyperplenism associated with splenomegaly. The genetics of thalassaemia intermedia are complex. It may result from a mild β chain defect or because of interaction of β chain defects with other defects of haemoglobin synthesis
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