Sickle Cell Awareness
September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month, designated by Congress in order to shed light on the need for research and treatment of sickle cell disease. This year’s theme is “Sickle Cell Matters.”
Sickle cell disease (SCD) is the most common form of inherited blood disorder, impacting 70,000 to 100,000 Americans.
About 1 in 13 African Americans carry the sickle cell trait, and many are unaware of their status as carriers. Approximately 2,000 babies are born with SCD annually in America, and diagnosis is generally made at birth. In order for a baby to be born with sickle cell disease, both parents must carry a sickle cell trait. While African Americans and Latinos have the most common incidence of sickle cell in the United States, people of many ethnic backgrounds can have the disease.
Sickle cell disease is caused by a change in the gene that alerts the body to make the iron-rich compound in red blood cells called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin affects the shape of red blood cells, which work to carry oxygen to all parts of the body. Red blood cells are usually round and flexible, allowing them to move through blood vessels with ease. However, in sickle cell anemia, some red blood cells are shaped like sickles or crescent moons. The shape of these sickle cells, along with their tendency to become rigid and sticky, leads to blood flow issues within the vessels. Blood flow can be slowed or even blocked completely due to the presence of these cells.
The blockage of blood flow caused by sickle-shaped red blood cells leads to complications including anemia, periodic episodes of extreme pain, swelling of the hands and feet, frequent infections, delayed growth or puberty, and vision problems.
Sickle cell disease is not contagious, and there is no universal cure. However, certain measures can be employed in order to ensure people with SCD stay as healthy as possible. Staying healthy with sickle cell disease includes preventing infections from common illnesses like the flu, engaging in self-care like eating well, exercising, drinking water, and taking medication (both prescription and over-the-counter) to reduce the severity of the disease and its symptoms. Additionally, receiving preventive care including vaccinations, dental check-ups, and annual well-visits is critical to ensuring that symptoms of SCD are managed.
There are many ways in which you can help advocate for people with sickle cell disease.
• Donate blood to support transfusions, which are often required to treat severe anemia
• Help educate others on SCD and advocate for better treatment, education, and research as it pertains to the disease.
• Get tested for the sickle cell trait if you are of African descent and don’t know your status.
• Help volunteer at a regional or state-specific SCD organization in order to raise awareness and provide community-based support.
To learn more about sickle cell disease, its symptoms, and ways to do your part to help sufferers, visit sicklecelldisease.org. If you are looking for a primary or specialty health care home, visit hope-health.org or call (843) 667-9414 to learn more about our services.