Thalassemia Intermedia: Chelator or Not?

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Sep 5;23(17):10189. doi: 10.3390/ijms231710189.


Thalassemia is the most common genetic disorder worldwide. Thalassemia intermedia (TI) is non-transfusion-dependent thalassemia (NTDT), which includes β-TI hemoglobin, E/β-thalassemia and hemoglobin H (HbH) disease. Due to the availability of iron chelation therapy, the life expectancy of thalassemia major (TM) patients is now close to that of TI patients. Iron overload is noted in TI due to the increasing iron absorption from the intestine. Questions are raised regarding the relationship between iron chelation therapy and decreased patient morbidity/mortality, as well as the starting threshold for chelation therapy. Searching all the available articles up to 12 August 2022, iron-chelation-related TI was reviewed. In addition to splenectomized patients, osteoporosis was the most common morbidity among TI cases. Most study designs related to ferritin level and morbidities were cross-sectional and most were from the same Italian study groups. Intervention studies of iron chelation therapy included a subgroup of TI that required regular transfusion. Liver iron concentration (LIC) ≥ 5 mg/g/dw measured by MRI and ferritin level > 300 ng/mL were suggested as indicators to start iron chelation therapy, and iron chelation therapy was suggested to be stopped at a ferritin level ≤ 300 ng/mL. No studies showed improved overall survival rates by iron chelation therapy. TI morbidities and mortalities cannot be explained by iron overload alone. Hypoxemia and hemolysis may play a role. Head-to-head studies comparing different treatment methods, including hydroxyurea, fetal hemoglobin-inducing agents, hypertransfusion as well as iron chelation therapy are needed for TI, hopefully separating β-TI and HbH disease. In addition, the target hemoglobin level should be determined for β-TI and HbH disease.

Keywords: HbH disease; iron chelation therapy; iron overload; liver iron concentration (LIC); non-transfusion-dependent thalassemia (NTDT); pulmonary hypertension; thalassemia intermedia (TI); β-TI.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ferritins
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Iron Chelating Agents / therapeutic use
  • Iron Overload* / drug therapy
  • Iron Overload* / etiology
  • alpha-Thalassemia*
  • beta-Thalassemia* / genetics
  • beta-Thalassemia* / therapy


  • Iron Chelating Agents
  • Ferritins
  • Iron

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.