Cardiovascular function and treatment in β-thalassemia major: a consensus statement from the American Heart Association

Circulation. 2013 Jul 16;128(3):281-308. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0b013e31829b2be6. Epub 2013 Jun 17.


This aim of this statement is to report an expert consensus on the diagnosis and treatment of cardiac dysfunction in β-thalassemia major (TM). This consensus statement does not cover other hemoglobinopathies, including thalassemia intermedia and sickle cell anemia, in which a different spectrum of cardiovascular complications is typical. There are considerable uncertainties in this field, with a few randomized controlled trials relating to treatment of chronic myocardial siderosis but none relating to treatment of acute heart failure. The principles of diagnosis and treatment of cardiac iron loading in TM are directly relevant to other iron-overload conditions, including in particular Diamond-Blackfan anemia, sideroblastic anemia, and hereditary hemochromatosis. Heart failure is the most common cause of death in TM and primarily results from cardiac iron accumulation. The diagnosis of ventricular dysfunction in TM patients differs from that in nonanemic patients because of the cardiovascular adaptation to chronic anemia in non-cardiac-loaded TM patients, which includes resting tachycardia, low blood pressure, enlarged end-diastolic volume, high ejection fraction, and high cardiac output. Chronic anemia also leads to background symptomatology such as dyspnea, which can mask the clinical diagnosis of cardiac dysfunction. Central to early identification of cardiac iron overload in TM is the estimation of cardiac iron by cardiac T2* magnetic resonance. Cardiac T2* <10 ms is the most important predictor of development of heart failure. Serum ferritin and liver iron concentration are not adequate surrogates for cardiac iron measurement. Assessment of cardiac function by noninvasive techniques can also be valuable clinically, but serial measurements to establish trends are usually required because interpretation of single absolute values is complicated by the abnormal cardiovascular hemodynamics in TM and measurement imprecision. Acute decompensated heart failure is a medical emergency and requires urgent consultation with a center with expertise in its management. The first principle of management of acute heart failure is control of cardiac toxicity related to free iron by urgent commencement of a continuous, uninterrupted infusion of high-dose intravenous deferoxamine, augmented by oral deferiprone. Considerable care is required to not exacerbate cardiovascular problems from overuse of diuretics or inotropes because of the unusual loading conditions in TM. The current knowledge on the efficacy of removal of cardiac iron by the 3 commercially available iron chelators is summarized for cardiac iron overload without overt cardiac dysfunction. Evidence from well-conducted randomized controlled trials shows superior efficacy of deferiprone versus deferoxamine, the superiority of combined deferiprone with deferoxamine versus deferoxamine alone, and the equivalence of deferasirox versus deferoxamine.

Keywords: AHA Scientific Statement; CT and MRI; heart failure; other heart failure; other treatment; thalassemia.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • American Heart Association*
  • Consensus
  • Heart Failure / etiology*
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology
  • Heart Failure / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Iron Chelating Agents / therapeutic use
  • Iron Overload / complications
  • Iron Overload / drug therapy
  • United States
  • beta-Thalassemia / complications*
  • beta-Thalassemia / drug therapy*


  • Iron Chelating Agents