Endocrine complications

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Vincenzo de Sanctis *
(*) Corresponding Author:
Vincenzo de Sanctis | vdesanctis@libero.it

Abstract

More than five decades ago, thalassemia major (TM) was fatal in the first decade of life. This poor prognosis changed since the survival rates started to increase progressively thanks to the implementation of continuous and significant improvement of diagnostic and therapeutic methods, consisting mainly of an intensive transfusion program combined with chelation therapy and imaging methods. Regular red blood cell (RBC) transfusions eliminate the complications of anemia, compensatory bone marrow expansion, bone changes and splenomegaly, restore the physiological growth throughout childhood and extend survival. The most serious disadvantage of life-saving transfusions is the inexorable accumulation of iron within tissues. Iron is physiologically stored intracellularly in the form of ferritin, a protein whose synthesis is induced upon the influx of iron. When the storage capacity of ferritin is exceeded, pathological quantities of metabolically active iron are released intracellularly in the form of hemosiderin and free iron within an expanded labile pool. This metabolically active iron catalyzes the formation of free radicals, which damage membrane lipids and other macromolecules, leading to cell death and eventually organ failure. Other factors contributing to the variability of cellular iron overload are: a) the cell surface transferrin receptors and the capacity of the cells to deploy defence mechanisms against inorganic iron; b) individual susceptibility to iron toxic effect; c) the development of organ(s) damage secondary to persisting severe iron overload in the years preceding iron chelation therapy; and d) liver disorders, chronic hypoxia and associated endocrine complications. Multi-transfused thalassemia major (TM) patients frequently develop severe endocrine complications mainly due to iron overload, anemia, and chronic liver disease, which require prompt diagnosis, treatment and close follow-up by specialists.

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