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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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December 2001

Q. My father-in-law is 78 years old and has recently been diagnosed with sideroblastic anemia. He has to go for blood transfusions every month. There is, unfortunately, very little information on the Internet about this illness. Are there any potential risks or side-effects of having blood transfusions every month and if so, what can be done to help minimize the risk?

A. The risks from transfusions are pretty low with current screening done at blood banks. Transfusion reactions and passage of viral infection are still possible but low likelihood.

Anemia refers to a low red blood cell count. Since the red blood cells deliver oxygen to the brain, muscles, and organs, an impairment of this function needs treatment. Sideroblasts are the imperfect cells produced by the bone marrow when it loses its ability to incorporate iron into the hemoglobin part of the red blood cell. Sideroblastic anemia can be inherited, result from exposure to various toxins, and can occur in the absence of any known cause. In addition to the anemia itself, iron from the diet can accumulate and deposit in the liver and other organs, causing damage. Treatment consists of the transfusions you describe and measures to prevent this excess iron accumulation.



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