Thalassemia, a genetic blood disorder, occurs when the body produces insufficient haemoglobin or an unsuitable form of this protein. Haemoglobin is essential for the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells (RBCs) in the body. Symptoms of this condition include deformities of facial bones, loss of stamina, stunted growth, breathlessness, and jaundice.
The treatment for thalassemia depends upon its type and severity and includes blood transfusion, chelation, stem cell transplant, or surgical procedures. Thalassemia is a life-long disease which can be kept in check by following a regular treatment schedule. Dr Ramananda Srikantiah Nadig, Head Clinical Advisory Board, healthi, talks about certain precautions that need to be taken to avoid deterioration of the patient’s condition –in children and adults alike.
In case of children affected with thalassemia, schools must be taken into confidence. There must be a plan in place that ensures adherence to blood transfusion or other treatment schedules of the patient, without any negative impact on the child’s overall quality of life and studies.
Care at home
Patients should be warned about the risks associated with pets. Bites and scratches might lead to septicaemia. Patients with viral infections such as hepatitis or other ailments must be careful not to infect their family or friends.
The approach to thalassemia varies, and in many countries, it is regarded as partial disability. This might entitle the patient to certain benefits and special employment opportunities. In most cases, a patient would be able to perform regular day-to-day jobs, and it is only those requiring physical exertion that must be avoided.
One of the most significant limitations experienced by a thalassemia patient is travel. Since the adherence to blood transfusion schedule is mandatory, one needs to be careful about not letting travel interfere with it. Patients should avoid going to remote regions where emergency blood-transfusion services might not be available. Similarly, they also need to avoid visiting areas where blood transfusion might pose a high risk of infection.
As long as a patient is following the blood-transfusion schedule without a fail and taking precautions as advised, he/she can lead a near-normal life. Barring activities which involve a high level of physical exertion or risk of injury, a thalassemia patient need not guard against other daily life activities.
Under normal circumstances, there are no dietary limitations or specifications for thalassemia patients. During the formative years, a diet with standard fat, and sugar contents is recommended. In adults, it might be beneficial to avoid sugar-rich foods that could potentially lead to diabetes. On a case-to-case basis, a diet that provides the required amounts of minerals like iron, zinc and calcium as well as vitamins C, D and E, and folic acid is likely to benefit the patients.