Sickle cell disease affects millions of people worldwide, however in the U.S. it affects over 50,000 people, primarily African-Americans.
According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the disease occurs in about one out of every 500 African-American births. There is currently no cure for sickle cell disease.
Additionally, about 2 million Americans have sickle cell trait. The condition occurs in nearly one in 12 African-Americans. Traits are an inherited condition, yet people with sickle cell trait are generally healthy.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects red blood cells. Those cells contain an abnormal type of hemoglobin (the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen) that causes red blood cells become sickle or crescent shaped. Sickle cells have difficulty passing through small blood vessels.
Those cells are also stiff, sticky, tend to form clumps and get stuck in the blood vessels.
The clumps of sickle cells block blood flow in the blood vessels that lead to the limbs and organs. Blocked blood vessels can cause pain, serious infections, and organ damage. Those problems can include lung tissue damage, stroke and damage to most organs including the spleen, kidneys and liver.
There are several types of sickle cell disease. The most common are: Sickle Cell Anemia (SS) and Sickle-Hemoglobin C Disease (SC). There’s also Sickle Beta-Plus Thalassemia and Sickle Beta-Zero Thalassemia.
A simple blood test can show whether a person has sickle cell disease.
Some of the signs and symptoms of sickle cell anemia are similar to other types of diseases and conditions. They include shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, coldness in the hands and feet, pale skin and chest pain.
Additionally, sudden pain throughout the body called a “sickle cell crisis” is a common symptom of sickle cell anemia.
Treatments can help relieve symptoms and complications, which help relieve pain, prevent infections, eye damage, and strokes. Mild pain often is treated with over-the-counter medicine and heating pads – severe pain may require hospitalization.
A bone marrow transplant may offer a cure in a small number of sickle cell anemia cases. Blood transfusions are commonly used to treat worsening anemia and sickle cell complications.
Sickle cell disease may appear to be a life threatening disease however the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people with sickle cell disease can live full lives and enjoy most of the activities other people do.
To do this, sickle cell sufferers must seek quality medical care most notably with a hematologist, a doctor who specializes in blood diseases. They must also have regular check-ups with a primary care physician, know their triggers and prevent infections.
Common illnesses like cold and flu can be dangerous to sickle cell disease sufferers.
A healthy diet can prolong quality of life and those living with sickle cell disease should look to clinical studies, which can provide access to groundbreaking treatments. Having a support network can additionally aid sufferers.
According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, people with sickle cell disease were not expected to survive childhood. But due to improved treatment, medical care and research, half of sickle cell patients live beyond 50 years.
For more information, call (219) 949-5310 or visit www.sicklecelldisease.org.