Thalassemias are common autosomal recessive disorders especially in populations of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Far Eastern descent. Relatively high incidence is also observed in people of Asian Indian origin but the incidence is more limited in those of African descent. β Thalassemias are heterogeneous at the molecular level, with more than 150 different molecular defects identified to date. Despite this heterogeneity, each at-risk population has its own spectrum of common mutations, usually from 5 to 10, a finding that simplifies mutation analysis. Homozygosity for β thalassemias usually results in transfusion-dependent thalassemia major and, rarely, in mild non-transfusion-dependent conditions. Molecular diagnosis may be used to define genotypes associated with mild forms. Advances in carrier diagnosis using hematologic analysis followed by mutation analysis have made possible the population screening of women at childbearing age and prenatal diagnosis. This approach in combination with nondirective genetic counseling has resulted in a consistent decline of the birth of affected homozygotes in several Mediterranean at-risk populations, as well as knowledge of the risks of being a carrier. Molecular diagnosis of homozygotes and identification of carriers of β thalassemia may lead to improved clinical management of patients with the disorder and prevention of the birth of affected homozygotes.