Sickle Cell Disease

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month – a time to spread awareness about the chronic condition that affects more than 100,000 people in the United States and 20 million people worldwide. In recognition of this disease, Steward is offering insights into the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for those managing a sickle cell diagnosis.

What causes Sickle Cell disease?
“Sickled cells” are red blood cells created with faulty hemoglobin that are abnormally inflexible and stick to the walls of blood vessels, restricting the flow of oxygen throughout the body. These cells also tend to be destroyed faster, and the body may struggle to replenish them fast enough, leading to sickle cell anemia.

Sickle cell disease is inherited when both parents have faulty hemoglobin genes that are passed down to their child. When only one faulty hemoglobin gene is passed down, a person can inherit the sickle cell trait. This generally does not cause any complications, but it means that the person is a carrier of the faulty hemoglobin gene and can still pass it down to their child.

What are common symptoms and complications associated with sickle cell disease?
Sickle cell symptoms tend to emerge in children when they are 5–6 months old. While the severity of symptoms can vary from patient to patient, common symptoms include:

  • Frequent pain episodes.
  • Anemia, which can cause fatigue.
  • Paleness and weakness.
  • Jaundice (yellowing of their skin and the whites of their eyes).
  • Swelling of the hands and feet.
  • Medical complications associated with sickle cell disease include:
  • Vision problems
  • Blood clots
  • Organ damage/failure
  • Priapism
  • Stroke

Are there treatment options for Sickle Cell disease?
Recent medical breakthroughs have allowed people with sickle cell disease to live longer, healthier lives. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued the following suggestions for how to live well following a sickle cell diagnosis:

  • Stick to a healthy diet and drink plenty of water every day.
  • Avoid situations or environments that may expose to low oxygen levels.
  • Prevent infections and get vaccinated.
  • Regular physical activity.
  • Get regular checkups with your medical provider.
  • Manage the temperature of your environment—ensure you have a balanced body temperature and aren’t too hot or too cold.

How can blood transfusions help those with sickle cell disease?
For a person suffering from sickle cell disease, a blood transfusion can help decrease the concentration of sickle cells in the blood and improve the flow of oxygen. Blood transfusion can significantly alleviate the pain caused by sickle cell disease. This can also prevent the development of other problems caused by the disease, such as acute chest syndrome and stroke.

More to be done.
While advances in medical understanding and treatment have improved the quality of life for those living with the condition, further research and increased awareness are crucial to continue driving progress and providing better outcomes for individuals and families impacted by sickle cell disease. Raising awareness, supporting affected individuals, and donating blood remain crucial steps in the journey towards a better understanding and management of sickle cell disease.

If you are able, consider donating blood to your local blood drive this month to help improve the lives of those with sickle cell disease.

To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.

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