Saturday, September 04, 2010

Sickle Cell Awareness Month

September marks the 35th Sickle Cell Awareness month, since starting in 1975. It was recognized on a national level in 1983 when the House of Representatives passed the resolution.

I've only been working with sickle cell patients for a couple of months but that's long enough to know that so much more education is necessary. Education for the public, but also education for the patients and their families.

Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects red blood cells. Basically, the red blood cells don't get enough oxygen, which causes them to become sickle (or crescent) shaped. In sickle cell disease, red blood cells contain mostly hemoglobin* S, an abnormal type of hemoglobin. This makes it difficult for them to move through blood vessels and they can get stuck. This then causes less blood flow in that part of the body, which causes damage. This typically results in pain but there is a host of complications associated with sickle cell, including acute chest syndrome and stroke.

Thanks to newborn screenings, sickle cell is detected at birth but babies must have another positive screening before they are officially diagnosed. This is a chronic illness without a cure. If the child has a full-sibling, they can be HLA-typed and if there's a match, they may be eligible for a transplant. Otherwise, patients take penicillin for the first 5 years of life to protect from from infection. If a child under 5 has a fever, they are typically admitted to the hospital because of the complications related to sickle cell. If a child has sickle cell disease and starts having more complications, they may start taking hydroxyurea or get blood transfusions. It's not easy to live with a chronic illness but these medications vastly improve quality of life and can prevent complications from occurring.

If you carry the trait and your partner carries the trait, you have a 25% chance of passing sickle cell disease on to your child and a 50% of passing the trait on. Genetic counseling is important before SC patients become sexually active and/or are considering reproduction.

Other measures to improve health are staying hydrated and avoiding cold temperatures, as well as maintaining a good diet.

As the following PSAs show, sickle cell affects everyone. It is not an "African American disease" as is widely believed. Every race, every background, man or woman.

Please spread awareness of sickle cell disease in your community!

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