Thalassaemia: watch out for side-effects in treatment

G. Bakthavathsalam, chairman of KG Hospital, interacting with children suffering from thalassaemia at a symposium organised at KG Hospital and Postgraduate Medical Institute in Coimbatore on Tuesday. “”PHOTO: S. SIVA SARAVANAN

It is not often that one comes across a disease where treatment itself is a possible threat to the patient. Thalassaemia is one such disease where such a possibility exists.

An inherited disease, this renders patients unable to produce enough blood the body needed. Therefore, the patients need life-long blood transfusion periodically.

Along with the heavy financial burden, it also involves the hazard of iron in the transfused blood accumulating in vital organs such as heart and liver, causing damage to these. But, recent developments are offering a solution.

At a symposium on thalassaemia organised at K.G. Hospital here on Tuesday, C. Ezhilarasi, a paediatrician from Metha Hospitals, Chennai, said that recent advancements had resulted in easier ways to tackle this side-effect.

While, the earlier option was to reduce iron deposit with an injection almost on a daily basis, which was painful and had low adherence rate, she said that iron chelation drugs that were developed in recent years, could be taken orally by dissolving them in water. This development had completely transformed the treatment of thalassaemia among children, she said.

However, this also had some side effects such as skin rashes and the patients must be watched carefully. The meet, organised to sensitise doctors to the risks, stressed early detection of thalassaemia for effective treatment.

The excessive iron accumulation had several effects including stunted growth, early onset of diabetes and infertility. The accumulation could be detected through MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

The only permanent cure for thalassaemia was a stem cell (from bone marrow) transplant from relatives. However, the cells must be an exact match and the rejection rates did cause some concern, she said.

Revathi Raj, paediatric haematologist at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, said that major hospitals and blood banks could adopt children with thalassaemia and create a pool of donors. She also recalled that the Tamil Nadu Government had passed an order mandating that blood transfusions for thalassaemia patients must be done free of charge.

K. Bakthavatchalam, chairman of K.G. Hospital, said that every year, around 10,000 children were born with thalassaemia in India. The hospital had donated around 1,500 units of blood in the past two years for children suffering from the disease.

S. Viveka Priyadharshni, consultant, transfusion medicine, spoke.

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