Anemia - sickle cell; Hemoglobin SS disease (Hb SS); Sickle cell disease
Sickle cell anemia is a disease passed down through families in which red blood cells form an abnormal crescent shape. (Red blood cells are normally shaped like a disc.)
Sickle cell anemia is caused by an abnormal type of hemoglobin called hemoglobin S. Hemoglobin is a protein inside red blood cells that carries oxygen. Hemoglobin S changes the shape of red blood cells, especially when the cells are exposed to low oxygen levels. The red blood cells become shaped like crescents or sickles.
The fragile, sickle-shaped cells deliver less oxygen to the body's tissues. They can also get stuck more easily in small blood vessels, and break into pieces that interupt healthy blood flow.
Sickle cell anemia is inherited from both parents. If you inherit the hemoglobin S gene from one parent and normal hemoglobin (A) from your other parent, you will have sickle cell trait. People with sickle cell trait do not have the symptoms of sickle cell anemia.
Sickle cell disease is much more common in people of African and Mediterranean descent. It is also seen in people from South and Central America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.
Symptoms usually don't occur until after age 4 months.
Almost all patients with sickle cell anemia have painful episodes (called crises), which can last from hours to days. These crises can affect the bones of the back, the long bones, and the chest.
Some patients have one episode every few years. Others have many episodes per year. The crises can be severe enough to require a hospital stay.
Common symptoms include:
Other symptoms include:
Tests commonly performed to diagnose and monitor patients with sickle cell anemia include:
Other tests may include:
The goal of treatment is to manage and control symptoms, and to limit the number of crises.
Patients with sickle cell disease need ongoing treatment, even when they are not having a painful crisis.
Folic acid supplements should be taken. Folic acid is needed to make red blood cells.
Treatment for a sickle cell crisis includes:
Other treatments for sickle cell anemia may include:
Treatments for complications of sickle cell anemia may include:
Bone marrow or stem cell transplants can cure sickle cell anemia. However, they are current not an option for most patients. Sickle cell anemia patients are often unable to find well-matched donors.
Joining a support group where members share common experiences can relieve the stress related to caring for someone with a chronic disease. See: Sickle cell anemia - support group
In the past, sickle cell patients often died from organ failure between ages 20 and 40. Thanks to a better understanding and management of the disease, today, patients can live into their 50s or beyond.
Causes of death include organ failure and infection. Some people with the disease experience minor, brief, infrequent episodes. Others experience severe, long-term, frequent episodes with many complications.
Call your health care provider if you have:
Sickle cell anemia can only occur when two people who carry sickle cell trait have a child together. Genetic counseling is recommended for all carriers of sickle cell trait. About 1 in 12 African Americans has sickle cell trait.
It is possible to diagnose sickle cell anemia during pregnancy.
If you have sickle cell anermia, you can prevent the change in red blood cell shape by:
Have a physical exam every 3 - 6 months to make sure that you are getting enough nutrition and activity, and that you are receiving the proper vaccinations. Regular eye exams are recommended.
It is important to maintain good oxygen levels and to prevent dehydration. The following steps can help prevent a sickle cell crisis:
Consider having the child with sickle cell anemia wear a Medic Alert bracelet. Share the above information with teachers and other caretakers, when necessary.
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