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Most people with thalassemia major or other severe types will need to have regular blood transfusions to treat anaemia. This involves being given blood through a tube inserted into a vein in your arm. It's usually done in hospital and takes a few hours each time.

How often you need to have transfusions depends on the type of thalassemia you have. People with the most severe type, beta thalassemia major, may need a blood transfusion about once a month. Those with less severe types may only need them occasionally.


Blood transfusions are very safe, but they can cause too much iron to build up in the body, so you'll need to take medicine to remove the excess iron. Treatment to remove excess iron caused by regular blood transfusions is known as chelation therapy. It's very important to take the medicines as prescribed by your team because high levels of iron in the body can damage organs.

The treatment will usually need to start once you have had around 10 blood transfusions. Medicines used in chelation therapy are known as chelating agents. There are 3 chelating agents currently available:

  • deferasirox(DFX) - taken once a day as a tablet. You may have had this previously as a tablet that  could  be  dissolvedin a drink. This is the commonest chelating agent used nowadays.   
  • desferrioxamine (DFO) - given as an infusion, where a pump slowly feeds the liquid medicine through a needle into your skin over 8 to 12 hours; this is done 5 or 6 times a week, usually overnight.
  • deferiprone (DFP) - taken as a tablet or liquid 3 times a day; it's sometimes used alongside DFO to reduce the number of infusions you need, particularly where iron has built up in the heart.