Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is the most common inherited blood disorder in the U.S. It refers to a group of disorders that are passed genetically and impact the red blood cells.
What is Sickle Cell:
Typically, red blood cells (which help to carry oxygen to our body) are round, allowing them to flow throughout our entire body easily. In individuals with sickle cell, the red blood cells are C-shaped and become hard and sticky, making it more difficult for them to travel and deliver oxygen to all parts of the body.
Additionally, sickled red blood cells have a much shorter lifespan resulting in a shortage of red blood cells for individuals with SCD.
Who is the most impacted?
In the U.S., sickle cell traits in the Black community occur in 1 out of every 12 individuals, and these individuals have a chance of passing Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) to any children they may have with another individual with sickle cell traits.
Though it is most common among Black and Latino individuals, SCD can affect people from all races. In fact, sickle cell is found worldwide and affects many people, including those with ancestries from Middle Eastern, Asian and Indian countries.
What are the complications?
Due to the shape of the sickled blood cells, there are many health problems people with SCD face. When these blood cells travel through the body, they can get stuck and cause blood flow issues, resulting in pain, infection or even stroke.
Red blood cells also carry oxygen, meaning that people with SCD are at risk of acute chest syndrome – a life-threatening complication that involves breathing difficulty from the lack of oxygen to the body and can result in lung damage.
Additionally, because sickled blood cells have a shortened life span, individuals with SCD are also likely to have anemia – a condition resulting from a lack of red blood cells which impacts how much oxygen is delivered throughout the body.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Sickle Cell Disease is a chronic, genetic disease that is inherited when a person receives a sickle cell trait (gene) from each parent. It can be diagnosed through a blood test, and in the U.S., testing for SCD is typically conducted during routine newborn screening tests but can also be done before childbirth.
Individuals can begin to show signs of the disease within the first year of life, making early testing and diagnosis absolutely vital because children with SCD are at increased risk of various health issues.
Currently, there is only one FDA-approved therapy that may be able to cure SCD, which involves having a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. These transplants can have some significant side effects and are quite risky surgeries, but they have been shown to be beneficial for severe cases in children.
There are a handful of treatment medications that help to prevent complications from the disease and help individuals with SCD live longer, healthier lives.
In addition to these medications, having healthy lifestyle behaviors like drinking water and regular preventative health care, including annual check-ups, can help manage some of the complications of SCD.
Take control of your health today by finding a healthcare provider near you and finding out if you carry a sickle cell trait.