Sickle cell anemia is a condition in which the red blood cells which carry oxygen throughout the body aren’t healthy any longer. It could also be termed as a group of inherited red blood cells disorders. Those who suffer from sickle cell anemia have a problem with their hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a proteinous substance in red blood cells which is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body of an organism. Under a normal condition, the red blood cells are disk-like in shape and flexible, which move easily through the blood vessels. In sickle cell anemia, the reverse is the case. The blood cells are rigid and sticky and are shaped like sickle or crescent moons. This irregular shape of the blood cells makes it extremely difficult for blood and oxygen to be transported throughout the body of the individual.
The cause of Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is caused by a defective gene in the body in which a person inherits from both parents. This defective gene is called the sickle cell gene. In order words, sickle cell anemia is passed on to a child by their parents (both their mothers and fathers). This means that a child cannot get sickle cell anemia if only one parent has the disease; both parents must have the faulty hemoglobin in their red blood cells for the child to possess the disease. Genes are known to always come in pairs; one pair is inherited from your mother while the other pair is inherited from your father. For a child to be born with sickle cell anemia, they must possess both faulty genes from both parents.
However, if one parent passes the faulty gene to the child, it is known as sickle cell trait. The child will have one normal hemoglobin gene and one faulty gene. Although their blood might have traces of sickle cells, carriers of sickle cell trait generally don’t have symptoms of the disease. But they are carriers of the disease, meaning that they can pass the gene even to their children.
Who is really at Risk of getting the disease?
Sickle cell anemia is not common in all parts of the world. Certain ethnic groups are prone to get infected with the disease. Most people of African descent, including African-Americans (1 in 12 carries a sickle cell gene), Hispanic-Americans from Central and South America. Those who also are at risk of getting the disease are people of the Middle Eastern Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean descents. Whether you are a male or female, if your parents are a part of the descents mentioned and have both faulty hemoglobin in their red blood cells, nothing stops you from getting the sickle cell anemia.
What are the Symptoms of Sickle Cell Anemia?
The symptoms of sickle cell anemia are nothing to write home about since they are very painful to bear. This disease causes a wide range of symptoms. Some of the symptoms of sickle cell anemia are:
Episodes of pain: This is also known as sickle cell crises, which affect the spine, the ribs and breastbones, the legs and arms, the pelvis, the tummy and many other parts of the body.
Anemia: Sickle cells break easily and die. This leaves your body with no blood.
Painful swellings of hands and feet: The swelling is caused by the sickle-shaped red blood cells which are blocking the flow of oxygen and blood to the hands and feet.
Yellowish color of the skin (jaundice)
Bone and joint pains
Delayed growth in children and delayed puberty due to the insufficient supply of red blood cells.
Transient ischemic attack: A condition in which the flow of blood to the brain is blocked or interrupted.
Acute Chest Syndrome: This is a serious lung condition which causes fever, chest pain, cough and the individual having difficulties in breathing.
Diagnosis of Sickle Cell Anemia
A blood test can show if an individual has sickle cell anemia or sickle cell trait. Parents who want to give birth can equally have the test to find out whether or not their children will have sickle cell anemia or sickle cell trait. Doctors also diagnose the disease before the birth of a baby. They use a sample of amniotic fluid. This is the liquid found in the sac which surrounds the baby before birth or tissue taken from the placenta.
Treatment for Sickle Cell Anemia
According to medical experts, the only sure cure for sickle cell anemia is bone marrow or the stem cell transplantation. Nevertheless, these transplants have side effects, so they are used when the disease is very serious.