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Genetics Home Reference: your guide to understanding genetic conditions     A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine®

Methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type

Reviewed July 2015

What is methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type?

Methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type is a condition that affects the function of red blood cells. Specifically, it alters a molecule called hemoglobin within these cells. Hemoglobin within red blood cells attaches (binds) to oxygen molecules in the lungs, which it carries through the bloodstream, then releases in tissues throughout the body. Instead of normal hemoglobin, people with methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type have an abnormal form called methemoglobin, which is unable to efficiently deliver oxygen to the body's tissues. In methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type, the abnormal hemoglobin gives the blood a brown color. It also causes a bluish appearance of the skin, lips, and nails (cyanosis), which usually first appears around the age of 6 months. The signs and symptoms of methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type are generally limited to cyanosis, which does not cause any health problems. However, in rare cases, severe methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type can cause headaches, weakness, and fatigue.

How common is methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type?

The incidence of methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type is unknown.

What genes are related to methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type?

Methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type is caused by mutations in the HBB gene. This gene provides instructions for making a protein called beta-globin. Beta-globin is one of four components (subunits) that make up hemoglobin. In adults, hemoglobin normally contains two subunits of beta-globin and two subunits of another protein called alpha-globin. Each of these protein subunits is bound to an iron-containing molecule called heme; each heme contains an iron molecule in its center that can bind to one oxygen molecule. For hemoglobin to bind to oxygen, the iron within the heme molecule needs to be in a form called ferrous iron (Fe2+). The iron within the heme can change to another form of iron called ferric iron (Fe3+), which cannot bind oxygen. Hemoglobin that contains ferric iron is known as methemoglobin.

HBB gene mutations that cause methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type change the structure of beta-globin and promote the heme iron to change from ferrous to ferric. The ferric iron cannot bind oxygen and causes cyanosis and the brown appearance of blood.

Related Gene(s)

Changes in this gene are associated with methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type.

  • HBB

How do people inherit methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type?

This condition is inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means one copy of the altered gene in each cell is sufficient to cause the disorder.

In some cases, an affected person inherits the mutation from one affected parent. Other cases result from new mutations in the gene and occur in people with no history of the disorder in their family.

Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type?

These resources address the diagnosis or management of methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type, and may include treatment providers.

  • Genetic Testing Registry: Methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type (
  • KidsHealth from Nemours: Blood Test: Hemoglobin (
  • MedlinePlus Encyclopedia: Hemoglobin (
  • MedlinePlus Encyclopedia: Methemoglobinemia (
  • MedlinePlus Encyclopedia: Skin Discoloration--Bluish (

You might also find information on the diagnosis or management of methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type, in Educational resources and Patient support.

General information about the diagnosis ( and management ( of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook. Read more about genetic testing (, particularly the difference between clinical tests and research tests (

To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? ( in the Handbook.

Where can I find additional information about methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type?

You may find the following resources about methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type, helpful. These materials are written for the general public.

You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.

What other names do people use for methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type?

  • blue baby syndrome
  • congenital methemoglobinemia
  • hemoglobin M disease

For more information about naming genetic conditions, see the Genetics Home Reference Condition Naming Guidelines ( and How are genetic conditions and genes named? ( in the Handbook.

What if I still have specific questions about methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type?

Ask the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (

What glossary definitions help with understanding methemoglobinemia, beta-globin type?

autosomal ; autosomal dominant ; cell ; congenital ; cyanosis ; ferrous ; gene ; heme ; hemoglobin ; hemoglobin M ; incidence ; inherited ; iron ; methemoglobin ; molecule ; mutation ; oxygen ; protein ; syndrome

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary.


  • do Nascimento TS, Pereira RO, de Mello HL, Costa J. Methemoglobinemia: from diagnosis to treatment. Rev Bras Anestesiol. 2008 Nov-Dec;58(6):651-64. Review. English, Portuguese. (
  • Melarkode K, Prinzhausen H. Hemoglobin M variant and congenital methemoglobinemia: methylene blue will not be effective in the presence of hemoglobin M. Can J Anaesth. 2008 Feb;55(2):129-30. doi: 10.1007/BF03016328. (
  • Percy MJ, McFerran NV, Lappin TR. Disorders of oxidised haemoglobin. Blood Rev. 2005 Mar;19(2):61-8. Review. (
  • Rehman HU. Methemoglobinemia. West J Med. 2001 Sep;175(3):193-6. Review. (
  • Skold A, Cosco DL, Klein R. Methemoglobinemia: pathogenesis, diagnosis, and management. South Med J. 2011 Nov;104(11):757-61. doi: 10.1097/SMJ.0b013e318232139f. Review. (
  • Thom CS, Dickson CF, Gell DA, Weiss MJ. Hemoglobin variants: biochemical properties and clinical correlates. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2013 Mar 1;3(3):a011858. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a011858. Review. (


The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? ( in the Handbook.

Reviewed: July 2015
Published: February 1, 2016