Blood Disorders-Sickle Cell Disease

October 25, 2008

African Americans are not the only people who get sickle cell disease.

Sickle Cell Disease is mostly seen in people who belong to sub-Saharan Africa. The disease is seen in at least  1of every 500 African-American births and is estimated that around 70000 Americans have the disease. But that does not mean only African Americans mostly fall prey to it. Millions all around the world are affected and many carry the trait.

Hemoglobin is the main substance, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. It is with the help of hemoglobin that the blood cells carry oxygen from the air in our lungs to all parts of the body. Hemoglobin A (A for Adult) is the normal adult hemoglobin and Hemoglobin C and S are abnormal.In these two, Hemoglobin S is the most common type of abnormal hemoglobin and the basis of sickle cell anemia and Sickle Cell trait. Blood cells are round shaped with a life span of 120 days. But with sickle cell disease, the cells which make hemoglobin S are distorted and can live only for 16 days. These sickle shaped cells have difficulty in passing through the blood vessels blocking the flow of blood. And without proper blood flow the tissues get damaged. This paves the way to problems like lung tissue damage, pain episodes in arms, legs, chest and abdomen, stroke and priapism. Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder and it is a highly depressing fact that there is no cure for sickle cell disease.

These are the common types of Sickle Cell Disease.

  1. Sickle Cell Anemia (SS),
  2. Sickle-Hemoglobin C Disease (SC)
  3. Sickle Beta-Plus Thalassemia
  4. Sickle Beta-Zero Thalassemia.

Sickle Cell Trait is not a disease and would refer to an inherited condition in which both hemoglobin A and S are produced in the red blood cells, with more of A than S. It may occur to children who have a parent with Sickle Cell Disease and the other without. Every baby born is the USA are hence tested for sickle cell disease.

There can be mild or severe symptoms in a patient. If affected with Sickle Cell Anemia, he or she may suffer from fatigue, shortness of breath and paleness. The skin may turn in to a yellow and so too the eyes with jaundice. He may also fall susceptible to pneumonia. He may have eye problems when the retina deteriorates without adequate blood supply. And due to this reason, patients will need frequent eye check-ups to prevent vision loss. With spleen damage due to the disease people become vulnerable to infections. Hence patients are required to take necessary vaccinations to ward off infections.

Doctors generally improve the situation with painkillers, antibiotics and blood transfusions. It is also maintained that bone marrow cell transplant (which highly risky) can help to cure sickle cell disease.

Living With It

You should take good care of yourself if you have Sickle Cell Anemia. By proper care and medical help you can prevent complications. Change your lifestyle in a healthy and positive way with a good diet, lots of fluids and regular physical activity. Ask your doctor for suggestion on the right kind of physical activity for you. You may need folic acid every day to help your body make new red blood cells. Quit smoking and consult your doctor on your alcohol intake.

Avoid laborious jobs, extreme climates and the use of blood vessel restricting medications like decongestants. Avoid air journeys and seek medical advice before air travel. Get vaccinations and flu-shots. Get regular medical check-ups for a healthy living.

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