What Is the Major Difference Between Thalassemia & Sickle Cell Anemia?

By Amber Williams

Thalassemia and sickle cell are genetic disorders. Thalassemia is the result of an imbalance in the two globin chains that produce the hemoglobin molecule. In sickle cell, a mutation of the genes causes an abnormal hemoglobin to be produced, which causes the cells to form a crescent shape (sickle). In either case, the production of hemoglobin is disrupted and cannot do its work of delivering oxygen to the body.

Features

In sickle cell, the red blood cells stick together when deoxygenated and form polymers that make the cell membrane rigid and unable to flow through capillaries as needed.

Symptoms

Symptoms of sickle cell do not often appear until at least 4 months of age and can include the following: painful "crises" that last for long periods, fatigue, jaundice and difficulty breathing. Severe cases of thalassemia can cause death at birth. General symptoms of thalassemia include bone deformities, enlarged liver or spleen and stunted growth.

Treatment

Blood transfusions are usually necessary for both sickle cell anemai and thalassemia. The major difference in treatment between the two is that sickle cell may also require dialysis, kidney transplant, surgery for eye problems or abnormal erections and gallbladder removal. Antibiotics are necessary due to the incidences of infection.

Prognosis

Sickle cell can cause organ failure if not properly treated. Sickle cell patients are also susceptible to infections that can be fatal if not immediately addressed. Thalassemia can lead to death by heart failure if not treated.

Considerations

Thalassemia is more likely to be present in those of Greek or Italian descent, whereas sickle cell is more often found in people of African or Asian ancestry.

References

About the Author

Amber Williams has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She currently writes primarily in the parenting and health categories. In addition to freelancing, Amber worked as an editor for a peer-reviewed research journal for 7 years. She graduated from Bennett College with a degree in English and Education.

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