Sickle cell disease, or sickle cell anemia, is an inherited blood disease that impacts about 1 in 365 African Americans. Although it’s more common in the black community, sickle cell disease can affect people in any race or ethnic group.
What is sickle cell disease?
Red blood cells have iron-containing hemoglobin, which carry oxygen. They’re normally circular in shape.
When a person has sickle cell disease, there’s a distorted special type of hemoglobin, called hemoglobin S. Red blood cells with the hemoglobin S can block blood flow through capillary blood vessels. This reduces the blood supply to vital organs and different parts of the body.
This sequence of events can cause repeated episodes of pain, which are called sickle cell pain crisis.
What is sickle cell trait?
Sickle cell trait means that a person is a sickle cell carrier. Sickle cell trait people have one normal hemoglobin gene and one abnormal sickle hemoglobin gene.
People with sickle cell trait normally don’t have any signs of sickle cell disease, but they can pass on the sickle cell trait gene to their children.
How is sickle cell anemia diagnosed?
In the United States, sickle cell screening is part of standard newborn testing, with a blood test. In some cases, it’s even diagnosed as part of prenatal care. Most people won’t show signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease until they’re around five or six months old.
Sickle cell pain crisis
Sickle cell pain crisis is when there’s an episode of pain that begins suddenly and lasts for hours or days.