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Enlightening Others About Sickle Cell

What Is Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that is characterized by the production of abnormal hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the tissues.

Normal hemoglobin cells are smooth and round in shape. They are flexible and able to move within the blood vessels easily. Red blood cells with sickle hemoglobin are stiff, sticky, and take on a crescent shape under certain conditions. When this happens, they do not pass through blood vessels easily which can block the normal blood flow. As a result, the red cells can break apart (hemolysis). This blockage can cause the following symptoms:

  • Acute Chest Syndrome
  • Anemia
  • Infection
  • Pain
  • Stroke
  • Other Complications

One in every 500 African Americans is born with some form of sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease typically affects people of African or Caribbean descent. However, it may also be found in people from the Middle East, India, Latin America, or the Mediterranean.

Sickle Cell Types

There are different types of sickle cell disease. The most common are:

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  • Sickle cell anemia (hemoglobin SS): This is the most common form. It often manifests with anemia and the most severe complications.
  • Hemoglobin S-Beta thalassemia: This type means the child has inherited both the sickle cell and thalassemia gene. Although similar to hemoglobin SS, it is less severe and has a smaller degree of complications.
  • Sickle cell-hemoglobin C disease (hemoglobin SC): This results in a milder degree of anemia and complications.
  • Sickle cell trait (hemoglobin AS): This indicates that the person has normal adult hemoglobin in addition to sickle hemoglobin. One in twelve African Americans has this trait. No significant complications are associated with this form, but offspring may be born with a kind of sickle cell disease depending on the parent's diagnosis.  Under extreme conditions, some with Sickle Cell Trait may experience signs or symptoms similar to those who have Sickle Cell.  Genetic counseling is recommended.

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