Sickle cell anemia is a painful, inherited disease that can result in serious complications for those who suffer from it. More than 70,000 Americans have sickle cell disease, most of them of African descent. The American Red Cross encourages eligible blood donors of all backgrounds to schedule a donation to help build a blood supply which reflects the diversity in our communities.
Sickle cell disease occurs when someone’s body produces red blood cells that become shaped like a sickle under certain conditions, instead of the normal, round red blood cells. These blood cells are stiff and block small blood vessels, causing serious complications.
The only cure for sickle cell disease is a bone marrow transplant, but finding a compatible donor is exceptionally difficult. One of the treatments for individuals with this illness is frequent blood transfusions, perhaps as often as every few weeks. If these transfusions come from donors of the same ethnic background, there is less chance of complications after the patient receives blood.
Patients with diseases like sickle cell anemia depend on blood being available when they need it. If someone would like to give blood, they must be at least 17 years of age, meet weight and height requirements and be in general good health. Donors should bring their Red Cross blood donor card or other form of positive ID with them. Many states allow 16-year-olds to give with parental consent.
Where Does Sickle Cell Disease Come From?
Sickle cell disease is inherited and passed from generation to generation. One out of every ten African Americans has the sickle cell trait, which means they inherited sickle hemoglobin from one parent and normal hemoglobin from the other parent. Having the trait alone does not mean the person will develop the disease. However, having the trait means the person is a sickle cell carrier and can pass the disease on to their children. If a child inherits a copy of the sickle gene from both parents, she or he will develop the disease. A simple blood test can determine if someone is a carrier of the trait, or if they have the disease.
Living With Sickle Cell Disease
Severe pain is the most common problem for people with sickle cell disease and often requires a stay in the hospital. The disease can also cause a stroke and abnormal pressure in the vessels of the lungs, which can lead to heart failure. Acute chest syndrome - chest pain, fever and trouble breathing – is another life-threatening complication of sickle cell disease. Because sickled cells can block the flow of blood and are low on oxygen, they can damage nerves and organs in the body, yet another possibly fatal complication. Other side effects of the disease are blindness, skin ulcers and gallstones.
Children with sickle cell disease may experience frequent infections, delayed growth, vision problems, swelling of the hands and feet, along with severe pain episodes and the risk of the other complications associated with the illness.
To schedule a donation time or get more information about giving blood, people can visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).