Thalassemia (British English: thalassaemia) is a form of inherited autosomal recessive blood disorders characterized by abnormal formation of haemoglobin. The abnormal haemoglobin formed results in improper oxygen transport and destruction of red blood cells. Thalassemia is caused by variant or missing genes that affect how the body makes hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. People with thalassemia make less hemoglobin and have fewer circulating red blood cells than normal, which results in mild or severe anemia. Thalassemia will be present as microcytic anemia.
Thalassemia can cause significant complications, including iron overload, bone deformities, and cardiovascular illness. However, this same inherited disease of red blood cells may confer a degree of protection against malaria (specifically, malaria caused by the protozoan parasite Plasmodium falciparum), which is or was prevalent in the regions where the trait is common. This selective survival advantage of carriers (known as heterozygous advantage) may be responsible for perpetuating the mutation in populations. In that respect, the various thalassemias resemble another genetic disorder affecting hemoglobin, sickle-cell disease.