Although many people are familiar with the condition anemia, they may not realise that there are different forms of the condition. In fact, there are numerous different types of anemia and effective treatment depends on the cause or pathophysiology of the condition.
Although genetic in nature, thalassemia is a form of anemia. The limited functioning of red blood cells associated with thalassemia can result in a medical emergency, if the condition is left untreated.
There are different types of the condition and they are often referred to as alpha or beta thalassemia. When assessing alpha vs beta thalassemia, it’s necessary to examine the patient’s blood. By determine the root cause of the condition, pathologists can find whether alpha vs beta thalassemia is present.
Once clinicians know whether a patient is suffering from alpha or beta thalassemia, a treatment plan can be devised.
Contained with red blood cells, hemoglobin carries oxygen around the body. In cases of thalassemia, the rate of hemoglobin is lowered. This means that not enough oxygen is carried around the body. However, when examining alpha vs beta thalassemia, it is clear that there are two distinct causes.
Hemoglobin consists of two different proteins; alpha and beta. If either of these two proteins are lacking, the patient will suffer the effects of thalassemia.
Patients who lack the alpha protein are diagnosed with alpha thalassemia. Although the condition is most common in Africa, the Middle East, India and China, anyone can be affected by alpha thalassemia.
Generally, alpha thalassemia is characterized into four separate types. If a patient is a ‘silent carrier’ of alpha thalassemia, they may experience no symptoms and be unaware that they have the condition. A rarer version of the ‘silent carrier’ is the ‘hemoglobin constant spring.’ Despite having a mutation of the alpha globin, patients with this version of alpha hemoglobin rarely experience symptoms either.
When mild alpha thalassemia presents, patients may be experiencing some symptoms, such as fatigue and shortness of breath. However, it is often mistaken as straightforward iron-deficiency anemia so diagnosis may not be made straightaway.
As the severity of the condition worsens, the scale increases and moderate alpha thalassemia or alpha thalassemia major may be identified. Patients who do not have any of the alpha protein in their DNA will suffer from alpha thalassemia major and treatment is essential.
If alpha thalassemia major is not treated, it will result in fatalities. However, if treatment begins in utero or following birth, it can be effective.
Similar to the pathophysiology of alpha thalassemia, beta thalassemia occurs if when a patient does not have enough beta protein in their hemoglobin. Generally categorized into three types, beta thalassemia may require urgent treatment.
If beta thalassemia minor occurs, it may simply mean that the person carries the thalassemia gene. Normally, the reduction is beta protein is not significant enough to impair the functioning of the red blood cells and, as a result, patients are not normally symptomatic.
In cases of beta thalassemia intermedia, the functioning of the red blood cells is affected and symptoms of anemia will occur. Significant health problems, such as enlargement of the spleen and/or bone deformities may also occur when beta thalassemia intermedia is present.
Normally, beta thalassemia intermedia is not life-threatening. Although patients are likely to require regular blood transfusions, these will reduce symptoms and improve quality of life, rather than being essential for survival.
Beta thalassemia major is also known as Cooley’s Anemia. Here, a complete lack of the beta protein occurs and the condition will certainly be life-threatening. Although patients will require regular iron transfusions, these must be managed carefully. If iron overload occurs, the patient is at risk of organ failure. It’s essential, therefore, that iron levels are monitored so that an appropriate therapeutic level is reached.
Alpha vs beta thalassemia treatment: When examining alpha vs beta thalassemia, it’s vital to analyze the proteins available within the hemoglobin. It is a lack of these proteins which will determine whether alpha vs beta thalassemia is present.
Although severe forms of both conditions can prove fatal, there are on-going treatments which can extend life expectancy and reduce symptoms. In addition to this, further clinical research is being undertaken in the hope of finding new treatments.
Whilst some patients will experience the more severe forms of alpha or beta thalassemia, there are many who will be diagnosed with a milder form of the condition. With a significant number of patients able to operate effectively, despite alpha or beta thalassemia being present, the condition does not always cause debilitating symptoms or loss of life.