If you have beta thalassemia and you're pregnant -- or plan to start a family -- there are steps you should take to protect your health and you baby's health. With the right care, you should be able to have a healthy pregnancy.
Can You Get Pregnant With Beta Thalassemia?
Yes, but you may need help getting pregnant. Often, women with beta thalassemia will need to use medications to help them ovulate in order to become pregnant.
Many health problems caused by beta thalassemia have to do with too much iron in your body. Iron can build up because of the disease itself and the frequent blood transfusions you may need to treat it.
The buildup of iron causes problems in your organs. If you're a woman, it can affect parts of your body like your pituitary gland and hypothalamus that are in charge of your hormones and have an impact on your ability to ovulate or have a period.
If You Have Beta Thalassemia, Will Your Baby Have It?
Not necessarily. Beta thalassemia is a genetic condition, which means parents can pass it to their children through their genes. It's caused by mutations (changes) to a gene.
If both parents are carriers (each has at least one mutated gene) for beta thalassemia, there is a:
- 25% chance their babies have the disease
- 50% chance their babies are carriers for the disease
- 25% chance their babies don't have the disease or the gene
In rare instances, beta thalassemia can be passed to a child if only one partner has the gene. Screening tests such as chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis can tell whether a developing baby has beta thalassemia.
How Does Beta Thalassemia Affect a Pregnancy?
Doctors consider pregnancies with beta thalassemia to be "high risk" because the disease raises the chances of health problems for a pregnant woman and her baby. Some challenges you could face:
Heart problems. When you're pregnant, your body makes a lot more blood to meet your baby's needs. This extra blood makes the heart work harder, so your doctor will carefully monitor your heart health before and during pregnancy.
Pregnant women with beta thalassemia can develop anemia, which can raise the chances of delivering early. You also may need more frequent blood transfusions during pregnancy for your health and the health of your baby.
Diabetes. The stress of pregnancy can make diabetes worse, which many people with beta thalassemia have. If you already have diabetes, your doctor will be focused on controlling it well during pregnancy. If you don't have diabetes, your doctor will check you for gestational diabetes.
Liver problems. Beta thalassemia can cause damage to the liver and other organs, and pregnancy puts added strain on your liver. Your doctor will test how well your liver works before you get pregnant and will keep tabs on it during your pregnancy.
Infections. Both pregnancy and beta thalassemia can make you more likely to get sick. Before pregnancy, your doctor will make sure you are up to date on your vaccines.
Experts recommend that pregnant women with beta thalassemia see their doctor every month during the first two trimesters and every other week in the third.