Important Facts About Sickle Cell Disease


The upcoming month of September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month thus providing an excellent opportunity to present information about this serious disease.

What is Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle Cell Disease is an inherited blood disorder that is caused when red blood cells are damaged. The cells sickle (like a C-shaped farm tool) and become hard and sticky. These distorted cells can block small blood vessels causing pain in the arms, leg, chest, and abdomen. Other complications from these damaged cells include stroke, damage to lung tissue, serious infections, and damage to the heart, liver, and kidneys. The sickle-shaped cells die early so anemia may also be a problem for the individual.

Who is affected by Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle Cell Disease mainly affects African Americans but Hispanics, and individuals of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian origin may also be affected. One in 500 African Americans and 1 in 1,400 Hispanics are born with Sickle Cell Disease each year.

What causes Sickle Cell Disease?

To develop Sickle Cell Disease, the child has to inherit two sickle cell genes – one from each parent. If the child inherits one sickle cell gene and one normal gene, then the child has the sickle cell trait. This means the child will usually not have symptoms of the disease but can pass the trait on to their children. For more information concerning the percentage of children who develop Sickle Cell Disease in a family when both parents have the sickle cell gene, refer to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or Sickle Cell Disease Association of America websites.

How is Sickle Cell Disease diagnosed?

The disease is diagnosed with a simple blood test.

How is Sickle Cell Disease treated?

Symptom management is very important in treating Sickle Cell Disease. Pain management and the prevention of pain crisis episodes are important. To help prevent or decrease the number of pain crises, the person must drink plenty of fluids, avoid getting too hot or cold, avoid high altitudes, and avoid situations that may expose the person to low oxygen levels such as over vigorous exercising. The anemia may be treated with blood transfusions. Taking iron tablets will not help this anemia since the cause of sickle cell associated anemia is due to not having enough red blood cells. The anemia is not caused by too little iron in the blood. Antibiotics are used to treat infections that the person may experience. The physician will individualize any other treatment(s) necessary for a particular person based on the symptoms that are present.

For more information visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sickle Cell Disease Association of American, or WebMD.