Possible complications of thalassemia include:
- Iron overload. People with thalassemia can get too much iron in their bodies, either from the disease itself or from frequent blood transfusions. Too much iron can result in damage to your heart, liver and endocrine system, which includes glands that produce hormones that regulate processes throughout your body.
- Infection. People with thalassemia have an increased risk of infection. This is especially true if you've had your spleen removed.
In cases of severe thalassemia, the following complications can occur:
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- Bone deformities. Thalassemia can make your bone marrow expand, which causes your bones to widen. This can result in abnormal bone structure, especially in your face and skull. Bone marrow expansion also makes bones thin and brittle, increasing the chance of broken bones.
- Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly). The spleen helps your body fight infection and filter unwanted material, such as old or damaged blood cells. Thalassemia is often accompanied by the destruction of a large number of red blood cells, making your spleen work harder than normal, causing your spleen to enlarge. Splenomegaly can make anemia worse, and it can reduce the life of transfused red blood cells. If your spleen grows too big, it may need to be removed.
- Slowed growth rates. Anemia can cause a child's growth to slow. Puberty also may be delayed in children with thalassemia.
- Heart problems. Heart problems, such as congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), may be associated with severe thalassemia.
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