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Genetic Causes of Anemia: Carriers, Susceptibility & Cures

Strand of DNA

There are many different causes of anemia, but a surprising one that many people don’t know about is genetics. Certain forms of anemia, such as sickle cell anemia, are genetically passed down from one’s ancestors over generations.

It is a common belief that anemia is a condition that is always caused by poor diet and external factors but is can also be a medical issue that is beyond a person’s control. These conditions are types of hemolytic anemias, but are inherited rather than acquired.

Here are some details some of the genetic forms of anemia and how individuals can know if they are a carrier or susceptible to the condition themselves.

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Sickle-Cell Anemia

One inherited form of anemia that is very serious is called sickle-cell anemia. This is a condition in which the body makes an abnormal form of hemoglobin that causes red blood cells to have a crescent shape. These cells typically only live 10-20 days, which is problematic because the bone marrow can’t replace dying cells with new ones fast enough. African Americans are most at risk of this condition in the U.S.

Thalassemia

Another genetic type of anemia is called thalassemias, which is an inherited blood disorder. Individuals who have this condition have bodies that cannot produce enough healthy red blood cells and that don’t make enough hemoglobin. Individuals of Indian, Southeast Asian, Chinese, Filipino, African, and Mediterranean descent are most at risk of this condition.

Iron-Refractory Anemia

Iron-refractory iron deficiency anemia is also caused by not enough healthy red blood cells, and it is typically inherited when both copies of the gene in each cell have mutations. Accordingly, this is a rare condition and symptoms often remain undiagnosed.

Hereditary Spherocytosis

This is an anemia condition in which the outer covering of red blood cells causes the cells to have a spherical shape. Northern European people are most likely to pass this condition down from one generation to the next.

Heredity Elliptocytosis

This condition is similar to hereditary spherocytosis in that it is an issue with the cell membrane. But with hereditary elliptocytosis, the red blood cells are shaped like ovals, which makes them less flexible and shortens their lifespan.

Carriers and Susceptibility of Genetic Anemia

Some people who appear healthy are actually carriers of genetic anemia conditions. However, simple blood tests, such as the hemoglobin electrophoresis, can detect the sickle cell trait, for example. These types of tests are offered at hospitals and specialty clinics. Individuals who are planning to become parents may wish to have blood testing done to determine if they are carriers of an anemia disease that may affect an unborn baby.

Cures for Genetic Anemia

As with many other genetic diseases, inherited forms of anemia are often very difficult to cure. Lifelong management is often required to ensure the health and wellness of people with genetic anemia. It is important for people with a history of inherited anemia conditions to discuss their concerns with a medical professional and determine whether iron supplements like Fergon may help.

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