Taking Time to Talk about Sickle Cell

World Sickle Cell Day June 19Have you thought much lately about the shape of your red blood cells? For most of us, we don’t consider their shape at all (they look like doughnuts without holes, in case you were wondering). Round, plump red blood cells carry hemoglobin through your body, which is the body’s way of transporting oxygen.

Except for some. For those with sickle cell disease, red blood cells are shaped like crescents. Sickle cells are stiff and sticky, making it difficult for them to transport freely through the blood vessels. Sickle cells tend to cause blockages in the blood vessels, which can cause pain and organ damage, even raising the risk of infection.

World Sickle Cell Day, as established by the United Nations, is observed every year on June 19. According to the UN, people need to know that sickle cell disease is “one of the world’s foremost genetic diseases, that it has severe physical, psychological and social consequences for those affected and their families.” Worldwide, there are approximately 4 million cases of sickle cell disease.

What Are the Symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease?

Sadly, symptoms can start in babies as young as six months old. A baby with sickle cell disease can develop a blockage in the blood vessels of their hands and feet, which causes sharp pain and severe swelling.

Also during childhood, a condition called splenic sequestration syndrome can develop. Blood cells suddenly stop up in the small blood vessels of the spleen. The spleen is very stretchy, so when the organ is blocked, it can inflate with blood, holding up to two-thirds of the body’s blood volume. This, of course, is a life-threatening condition.

Infections are also very common in sickle cell patients, particularly in young ones whose immune systems aren’t fully established. Children with sickle cell disease have a greatly increased chance of contracting meningitis, pneumonia, and sepsis. For this reason, many children take preventative antibiotics until the age of five.

Complications and risks follow those with sickle cell disease throughout their lifetime. It is truly a challenging disease, well worth the attention it gets on World Sickle Cell Day.

If you’d like more information about local events for World Sickle Cell Day, contact the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley Chapter of the Sickle Cell Disease Association.

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