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SCD Facts You Should Know!

Sickle cell anemia (also called sickle cell disease or SCD) is a hereditary disease in which a person does not have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.

  • Sickle cell disease is the most common genetic disease in the world and is most common in people whose families come from Africa, South or Central America (especially Panama), Caribbean islands, Mediterranean countries (such as Turkey, Greece, and Italy), India, and Saudi Arabia.

  • In the United States, about 1 in every 500 African Americans are born with the disease. Hispanic Americans also are affected at a rate of about 1 in 1,000 to 1,400.

Normal healthy red blood cells are flexible and round, move easily through blood vessels and carry oxygen to all parts of your body. In sickle cell disease, red blood cells are not round. Instead they are curved like a crescent, or sickle. This is because the hemoglobin in the red blood cell is abnormal. The sickle-shaped red blood cells cannot move easily and can become stuck in small blood vessels, blocking them.

As a result, the blood supply to that part of the body is restricted. Organs that do not receive normal blood flow will become damaged over time. Restricted blood flow is what causes the complications of sickle cell disease, which can range from mild fatigue to more severe symptoms such as stroke, infections, and pain in the bones and chest requiring treatment in the hospital. The complications vary from person to person, with some having to see their doctor often and others less so. There is no cure for most people with sickle cell disease, as they are born with the abnormal hemoglobin. However, there are treatments and medicines that control or prevent the health problems caused by the disease.

The signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease vary. Some people have mild symptoms. Others have very severe symptoms and often are hospitalized frequently for treatment. Sickle cell disease is present at birth, but many infants don't show any signs until after 4 months of age. The most common signs and symptoms are linked to anemia and pain. Other signs and symptoms are linked to organ complications from the disease.

Signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease include:

  • Fatigue (most common symptom)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Coldness in the hands and feet
  • Pale skin
  • Chest pain

Sudden pain affecting different parts of the body is a common symptom of sickle cell disease. This pain is called a "sickle cell crisis." Sickle cell crises often affect the bones, lungs, abdomen, arms, legs, and joints.

  • A sickle cell crisis occurs when sickled red blood cells form clumps in the bloodstream. (Other cells also may play a role in this clumping process.) These clumps of cells block blood flow through the small blood vessels in the limbs and organs. This can cause pain and organ damage.

  • The pain from sickle cell crisis can be acute (sudden) or chronic (long-lasting), but acute pain is more common. Acute pain comes suddenly and can range from mild to very severe. The pain usually lasts from hours to a few days. Chronic pain often lasts for weeks to months. Chronic pain can be hard to bear and mentally draining. This pain may severely limit daily activities, work and education.

  • Almost all people who have sickle cell disease have painful crises at some point in their lives. Some have these crises less than once a year. Others may have 15 or more pain crises in a year.

The three most common forms of the disease in the United States are:

  1. Hemoglobin SS or sickle cell anemia
  2. Hemoglobin SC disease
  3. Hemoglobin sickle beta-thalassemia (a form of "Cooley's" anemia)

Each of these can cause very painful "crisis" episodes and in severe cases lead to stroke, heart attack and death.

  • A simple, painless blood test called the hemoglobin electrophoresis can be done by your doctor or local sickle cell foundation.

  • Get tested now for sickle cell! If you are of child-bearing age, you and your partner should be tested immediately so that you can make informed family planning decisions.

If you'd like to help support those who suffer from sickle cell disease, you can do so by:

  • supporting your local Sickle Cell Foundation 
  • donating blood to your local Red Cross
  • advocating! be vocal about Sickle Cell awareness