What Is Sickle Cell Disease?
Sickle cell is an inherited blood disorder in which the red blood cells change their shape. It is a genetic abnormality and is caused by an abnormal type of hemoglobin, called hemoglobin S or sickle hemoglobin. Normal red blood cells have a disc-like shape, but in patients of sickle cell disease, they take on a crescent or sickle shape. Normal blood cells carry oxygen to the body, but altered cells cannot move easily through your blood vessels, which affects the oxygen supply. These altered cells cannot carry oxygen properly because when they release oxygen, it sticks together and changes the shape of the red blood cell.
Prevalence of Sickle Cell Disease
Sickle cell has existed for thousands of years and millions of people around the world suffer from the disease, but it's more common in people with an African bloodline. It is also quite common in people whose ancestors come from the Arabian Peninsula; Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Greece, and Italy; Central America; Spanish-speaking regions in South America; and parts of the Caribbean. As a whole, it affects approximately 100,000 Americans and is the most common heritable blood disorder in the U.S.
How Do You Inherit Sickle Cell Disease?
Sickle cell disease is not contagious – you're born with it. A child may have this disease when he/she inherits one hemoglobin S gene from each parent. About 1 in every 365 African American babies are born with sickle cell each year and. While the disease primarily affects African Americans and people of color - including individuals of Hispanic and Middle Eastern descent, anyone can inherit sickle cell if the genetics are in place. There are also other sickle cell mutations, including Hemoglobin SC disease and hemoglobin Sβ thalassemia, the two most common.
Sickle Cell Trait
If you inherit only one sickle hemoglobin gene from a parent you will carry the sickle cell trait. While the trait was once thought to be innocuous, in recent years more has been learned about carriers. People with the trait are more likely to suffer from conditions such as urinary tract infections or blood in the urine. Even athletes with sickle cell trait are now advised to take special precautions with their health.
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Living with sickle cell disease isn't easy, but proper knowledge about the condition will help patients live a longer, healthier life and guide trait carriers in making educated child-bearing decisions.
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