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Sickle Cell Anemia by Nicole DeMuth

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Sickle Cell Disease is a type of Anemia. Anemia is a blood condition that causes a decrease in red blood cells. Sickle cells are shaped like a crescent that blocks the blood flow in vessels and can cause serious problems along with intense pain. This disease is most often seen in people of African American and Mediterranean descent. An individual can only get this disease if both of their parents carry the sickle cell trait. Those who carry the trait are unaware they have it because they have no symptoms. Symptoms affect the entire body since vessels are distributed throughout. There is no cure but there are ways to prolong one’s life who have this disease.

Normal red blood cells are disc-shaped, because red blood cells do not have a nucleus their center is non-existent. When an individual has sickle cell anemia, it affects the shape of red blood cells due to an abnormal type of hemoglobin (blood protein). Hemoglobin carries oxygen in red blood cells. When a cell is exposed to a decrease in oxygen, the cell then transforms into a crescent or sickle shape called hemoglobin s. A normal red blood cells lifespan is around 120 days, a sickle cell’s lifespan on average is around 10-20 days. Bone marrow, where red blood cells are produced, cannot reproduce red blood cells fast enough causing a decrease in the red blood cell count.

When the red blood cells change shape it causes numerous problems throughout the body. When the cell takes the shape of a crescent, it makes it difficult for blood flow to move through the vessels. The crescent-shaped cell tends to get lodged within the vessels causing pain, infections, and organ damage. Painful symptoms can affect the bones of the back, and chest which can be associated with the term crisis. Other symptoms for this disease can cause abdominal irritation, delayed growth, puberty, fever, fatigue, rapid heart rate, jaundice, ulcers on the lower leg, and shortness of breath. Crisis symptoms can last anywhere from hours to days. These symptoms usually are not present until the age of four and vary by person on how frequently they occur.

A sickle cell trait differs from the actual disease because there are no symptoms. This inherited disease is produced by both parents being a carrier of the sickle cell trait. If one parent has Hemoglobin S and the other parent carries normal hemoglobin, the offspring will just carry a sickle cell trait.

This disease does not currently have a cure but it can be managed and maintained by several crisis. Maintenance to prevent outbreaks is lifelong treatment. It is suggested to take folic acid supplements. Folic acid is used to help produce more red blood cells. Treatments could also include blood transfusions, pain medication, and by ingesting plenty of liquids. An antibiotic commonly used to prevent crisis is Hydroxyurea which helps to prevent bacterial infections. It is also advised to have a physical exam every three to six month. Those who are suffering from this disease should avoid strenuous activities, stress, smoking, high altitudes, non pressurized flights, and sun exposure. The main cause of death is organ failure and infection. Patients with this disease today who are taking precautions are prolonging their life span to about the age of 50.

“What is Sickle Cell Anemia?-NHLBI, NIH” National Heart, Institute.web.09,oct. 2011<>.
“Sickle Cell Anemia – PubMed Health.” Sickle Cell Anemia. A.D.A.M, 28 Feb. 2011. Web. 04Oct. 2011. <>.

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