Sickle Cell Anemia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Many times individuals contract diseases from other individuals or the environment. In some cases, however, some diseases are hereditary. These diseases can be active or can remain dormant in an individual for years before surfacing.

Sickle Cell Anemia

Sickle cell anemia is a hereditary disease. It is also referred to as Hemoglobin SS disease. It is a disease that affects the body’s red blood cells or specifically the hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. Normal red blood cells have a shape the looks like a disc or doughnuts shaped with the centers scoped out and are soft and flexible. Sickle cell anemia happen when an abnormal form of hemoglobin (Hemoglobin S) is made instead. These red blood cells become sticky and stiff, this causes the cells to be curved or sickle shaped. The sickle-shaped cells are destroyed quickly, causing the anemia, thus the name sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is not contagious; you can’t catch if from someone else.

Who Can Get It?

Sickle cell anemia affects millions of people. It primarily affects individuals of African descent and Hispanics of the Caribbean. It has also been found in individuals from the Middle East, India, Latin American and Mediterranean heritage.

What causes it?

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disease caused by a genetic mutation. A person who receives the defective gene from both their father and mother develops the disease; a person who receives one defective gene and a healthy one, will not have the disease but will be a carrier of the sickle cell trait.

How does it happen?

An individual inherits hemoglobin S from both parents; the abnormal type of hemoglobin. A person who inherits hemoglobin S from one parent and normal hemoglobin from one parent will have the trait but not the disease.

When does it appear?

Sickle cell anemia disease is present at birth; however, the symptoms of the disease don’t appear until after the age of four months.

What are the symptoms?

They are many symptoms that are associated with sickle cell anemia. Each one has its own individual concerns and needs to be treated.

  1. Anemia-This is a common symptom. Since with this disease blood cells are produced but they are sickle-shaped, which causes blood cells to lose their oxygen capacity. The body then becomes dehydrated, or you get a fever. This decrease in red blood cells causes anemia.
  2. Pain-When the flow of blood is blocked to an area because of the sickle cells becoming stuck in the blood vessels, it causes a vasocclusive crisis. This results in a pain that can be anywhere in the body and can cause organ damage.
  3. Jaundice-This is another common sign of sickle cell anemia. Since the sickle cells do not live as long as normal red blood cells, therefore, they die quicker than the liver can filter them out. These broken down cells build up causing jaundice. Other symptoms include paleness, fatigue, breathlessness, ulcers, rapid hearth rate and a susceptibility to infections.

How can it be diagnosed?

A doctor will get a complete medical history and physical exam. The doctor will then do a complete blood work, also a hemoglobin electrophoresis test, and a sickle cell test. Many states tests newborns for this disease. Early diagnosis is essential in providing proper treatment and avoiding complications that can occur.

What treatments are available?

Individuals with sickle cell anemia disease need constant treatment. The specific treatment will depend on your age, health, and medical history, the extent of the disease, your tolerance for medication and the course of the disease.

Pain caused by the disease is usually treated with analgesics or other stronger pain medications. The individual must drink lots of water to prevent dehydration. Antibiotics such as penicillin are given to prevent infections. Blood transfusions are done to help with the anemia and prevent a person from having a stroke.

A bone marrow transplant has shown signs of curing a small amount of individuals, however, finding a suitable donor are not always easy and it is a risky procedure. In recent years a drug called hydroxyurea has helped to reduce the pain issues and chest problems and has reduced the amount of transfusions given.

Sickle cell anemia is a serious condition that requires an individual receive a lot of medical attention and care. The key is to get treatment early.

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