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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Other Names for this Disease
  • Beta thalassemia intermedia
  • Beta thalassemia major
  • Beta thalassemia minor
  • Cooley's anemia
  • Erythroblastic anemia
More Names
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Your Question

I've been told that I am a carrier for beta-thalassemia and I have low levels of hemoglobin. Can I donate blood?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

How is beta-thalassemia inherited?

Beta-thalassemia major and beta-thalassemia intermedia are usually inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, which means both copies of the HBB gene in each cell have mutations. The parents of an individual with an autosomal recessive condition each carry one copy of the mutated gene (referred to as carriers), but they typically do not show signs and symptoms of the condition. When two people who are carriers of an autosomal recessive condition have a child, there is a 25% (1 in 4) chance that the child will have the condition, a 50% (1 in 2) chance that the child will be a carrier like each of the parents, and a 25% (1 in 4) chance that the child will not have the condition and not be a carrier.[1]

Sometimes, people with only one HBB gene mutation in each cell (carriers) develop mild anemia. These people are said to have beta-thalassemia minor or beta-thalassemia trait. Therefore, each time two individuals with beta-thalassemia minor have a child, there is a 25% chance that each child will have either beta-thalassemia major or intermedia (depending on the severity of that child's symptoms), a 50% chance that the child will be a carrier without symptoms or have beta-thalassemia minor (depending on whether the child has anemia), and a 25% chance that the child will not have beta-thalassemia and not be a carrier for the condition.[1]

In a small percentage of families, the HBB gene mutation is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner. In these cases, one copy of the altered gene in each cell is enough to cause the signs and symptoms of beta-thalassemia.[1]
Last updated: 7/7/2011

Can an individual with beta-thalassemia minor donate blood?

When an individual chooses to donate blood, he/she is typically examined and asked specific questions about his/her medical history (to make sure that donating blood isn't unsafe for the individual donating or for the recipient). During this process, the individual's hematocrit value (or hemoglobin level) is tested to make sure that the individual does not have anemia and is not likely to become anemic after donation. In order to donate blood, an individual's hemoglobin level must be at a specific level, which is established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Usually, individuals with hemoglobin levels that are too low are temporarily not permitted to donate blood. A low hematocrit level is one of the most common reason people are temporarily disqualified or “deferred” from donating blood, but some donors can actually have anemia and still be eligible to donate.[2]

People who have beta-thalassemia minor and are interested in donating blood should speak with their healthcare provider.  Click here for more information about blood donation from the FDA.
Last updated: 12/5/2010