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What to Know About Sickle Cell Disease

October 10, 2018

Sickle cell disease is the name of an inherited problem with red blood cells. Most people have red blood cells that are disc-shaped and move easily through blood vessels, but those with sickle cell have red blood cells that are C-shaped (like the farm tool called a sickle). The unusual shape of red blood cells, as well as their tendency to harden and become sticky as they travel through blood vessels, causes a variety of problems.

Some people who haven’t suffered any problems from the disease may still be a carrier of the sickle-cell trait. While those who have the sickle-cell trait usually don’t show signs of the disease, they can pass the trait to their children, and they occasionally do suffer related problems.

Living with Sickle Cell Disease

Children and adults who have sickle cell disease have a range of signs and symptoms, and many of them suffer from episodes of severe pain. Red blood cells are tasked with bringing oxygen to every organ in the body. When red blood cells are sickled, they aren’t as effective in bringing oxygen to the organs. Blood vessels may become blocked, and the affected organs may not get enough blood flow. The body has to work much harder just to maintain regular bodily functions, and it takes a huge toll.

These episodes also can cause serious damage to various internal organs throughout the body, and in some cases can cause infections, acute chest syndrome or stroke.

Things to Keep in Mind

If you know someone who suffers from sickle cell disease, support them in their journey with the disease. You likely only see them when they are well, but there could be times when they have to be hospitalized, are in severe pain or suffer serious health problems. Ask them about their experience and show your concern.

Also, keep in mind that there are many people who carry the sickle cell trait who may not show any problems related to the disease, but could have issues when the body experiences stress, such as when playing sports. While playing sports, an athlete is in need of more oxygen to fuel their body. Sometimes during periods of intense physical strain, dehydration, heat or high altitudes, the body of an athlete with sickle-cell trait cannot meet the physical demands. This can result in injury to internal organs and can even cause death in rare cases.

How Do I Know If My Child Has Sickle Cell Trait? Doctor entertains a mother and her child as they wait for test results

Most parents are informed of their child’s sickle cell disease or trait when the child is born. It is part of the routine newborn-screening tests done in the hospital shortly after a baby is born. However, if you don’t know your child’s or your own status, ask your doctor to perform a blood test.

If your child has sickle cell disease, they should be under the care of a hematologist, a doctor who specializes in these types of blood disorders.

For more information about the pediatric hematologists here at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, please contact us on our website or call 321-8HEALTH (843-2584) for an appointment.

Learn More About Sickle Cell Disease

Arnold Palmer Hospital's Sickle Cell Disease Program provides diagnosis, treatment and long-term health management for children with sickle cell anemia. Our cross-functional team of pediatric specialists will work with you to develop a comprehensive treatment plan and strategies to minimize your child’s symptoms and avoid disease complications. 

Learn More

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