Do You Know About Sickle Cell Anemia

Sickle cell anemia is perhaps the most well known of the blood disorders. It is a serious blood disorder. The red blood cell of the individual with this disorder, have a sickle shape to them and can move easily through the blood vessels of your body. The hemoglobin in these sickle cells is abnormal causing the shape and makes them stiff and sticky which makes them clump and therefore get stuck in the blood vessels. Other blood cells can contribute to the “clumping”.

These clumps inside the blood vessels restricts blood flow and can even block the flow of blood causing pain, serious infections, and organ damage.

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disorder that is life long. Those who have the disorder are born with it and have it for life.

There is no widely available cure for sickle cell anemia. There are treatments and bone marrow transplants may offer a small number of individuals, a cure.

Individuals with sickle cell anemia have long-term pain and fatigue. Treatment can improve the symptoms and most individuals with this blood disorder can now live into their 40s, 50s, or even longer.

Individuals at greatest risk for sickle cell anemia are those from Africa, South or Central America, the Caribbean islands, and Mediterranean countries like Greece, Italy, and Turkey. Other countries where individuals are at risk for developing sickle cell anemia are India and Saudi Arabia. In the U.S., the biggest population affected by this disorder is African Americans. One in every 500 African American births is affected by sickle cell anemia.

If you are at risk for sickle cell anemia it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of the disorder. These signs and symptoms can vary with some having mild symptoms and others having severe symptoms. The disorder is present at birth, but most infant do not show any signs of the disorder until they are at least 4 months of age. Anemia as seen in blood test results or pain is often the first telltale signs of the disorder. Other signs and symptoms are commonly seen as a complication of the disorder and include shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, pale skin, cold hands and feet, and chest pain.

The most common sign of the disorder is a widespread and sudden pain throughout the body – called a “sickle cell crisis”. This sickle cell crisis can affect the abdomen, bones, joints, or lungs. The chronic pain can last for weeks and be emotionally and mentally draining.

There can be complications of the disorder including something called hand-foot syndrome. Swelling can occur on the back of the hands, feet and can also affect the fingers and toes. This is often the first sign of sickle cell anemia that is seen in infants. Those with sickle cell anemia can suffer splenic crisis which is when the spleen traps cells that should be released into the bloodstream causing the spleen to enlarge and can then lead to anemia. The spleen won’t work right if it becomes too clogged with cells.

Another complication of sickle cell anemia is infection. Sickle cell anemia can damage the spleen and other organs that fight off infections. If the spleen is damaged an infection such as pneumonia can be fatal within hours or days.

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