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Effective Iron Chelation Practice for Patients With β-Thalassemia Major

Susan M. Carson
Marie B. Martin
CJON 2014, 18(1), 102-111 DOI: 10.1188/14.CJON.102-111

Chronic blood transfusion is the only treatment for severe anemia in patients with β-thalassemia major. However, red blood cell transfusions lead to iron overload and subsequent organ damage because of the toxic effects of iron. The heart is particularly vulnerable to iron toxicity, and heart failure is the leading cause of death among these patients. Iron chelation therapy prevents or reverses iron loading, thereby reducing the risk of complications from excess iron. Serum ferritin and liver iron concentration often are used to gauge the risk of organ iron overload, but these measurements may not correlate well with cardiac iron load. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive diagnostic tool that can provide a more direct measure of iron concentration in both the heart and liver. Cardiac iron determined by MRI is expressed as a function of T2*, in which higher values represent lower concentrations. Changes in T2* are used to assess the effectiveness of iron chelation and to adjust therapy. Early treatment and compliance are keys to successful therapy. Nursing strategies to optimize chelation therapy include identifying patients who are at risk for developing organ damage, developing chelation plans, promoting compliance, and educating patients. The efficacy and safety of iron chelators, as well as nursing best practices, are reviewed.

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