11 Things You May Not Know About Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease affects approximately 100,000 people in the United States and millions worldwide.  It occurs in about 1 out of every 500 Black or African-American births and 1 out of every 36,000 Hispanic-American births.  Let’s review some facts about sickle cell disease that you may not know as well as dispel a few common myths about this blood disorder.


Sickle Cell Awareness Month

Sickle Cells
Sickle Cells. Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month.  The Sickle Cell Disease Association of American was instrumental in this proposal and it was officially recognized in 1983.


Sickle cell disease can occur in any race or ethnic group

World Map
World Map. Jens Magnusson/Ikon Images/Getty Images

Although sickle cell disease has long been associated with people of African descent, it can be found in many races and ethnic groups including  Spanish, Brazilian, Indian, Africans and even Caucasians.


Sickle cell disease is inherited

It is not contagious like a cold.  People with sickle cell disease inherited this condition from their parents and are born with it.  Additionally, people with sickle cell trait cannot develop sickle cell disease.


Sickle cell disease is diagnosed at birth

Sickle Cell Stamp
Sickle Cell Stamp. traveler1116/E+/Getty Images

In the United States, every baby is tested for sickle cell disease.  This is part of the newborn screen performed shortly after birth.  Identifying children with sickle cell disease in infancy can prevent serious complications.


Sickle cell trait and malaria

Sickle cell trait can protect an individual from becoming infected with malaria.  This doesn’t mean a person with sickle cell trait cannot be infected with malaria, but it is less common than a person without sickle cell trait.


Not all types are created equal

There are different types of sickle cell disease.  The most common is hemoglobin SS but there is also hemoglobin SC and sickle beta thalassemia.  The type of sickle cell disease a person inherits determines the severity of disease.


It is more than just pain

Woman with Headache
Woman with Headache. JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

There is a lot more to sickle cell disease than just painful crises.  Sickle cell disease is a disorder of the red blood cells which supply oxygen to all the organs.  Because sickle cell disease occurs in the blood, every organ can be affected.  Patients with SCD are at risk for stroke, eye disease, gallstones, serious bacterial infections and anemia, to name a few.


Children with sickle cell disease can have strokes

People don’t think about strokes occurring in children but children with sickle cell disease have a much higher risk than the general population.  Physicians who treat children with sickle cell disease use an ultrasound of the brain to screen patients to determine who is at highest risk of stroke and start treatment to prevent stroke.


A simple antibiotic changed life expectancy

Picking Up Medications
Picking Up Medications. Blend Images – Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Penicillin is life saving.  Patients with sickle cell disease are at increased risk of serious bacterial infections.  Starting penicillin twice a day for the first 5 years of life has changed the life expectancy from childhood to adulthood.


There are treatments available

There is more than pain medications for treating sickle cell disease.   Today blood transfusions and the medicine called hydroxyurea are changing the lives of people with SCD.  These therapies are allowing people with sickle cell disease to live longer lives with fewer complications.


There is a cure

Bone marrow transplantation is the only cure.  The best success has come from donors who are matched siblings to the patient with sickle cell disease but there are trials ongoing looking at other possible donors.  In the coming years gene therapy looks like a promising treatment.

Dispelling Myths about Sickle Cell Disease

Hopefully the above information gave you more information about sickle cell disease and clarified some commonly heard myths about this disease.


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