Brief Facts You Should Know About Sickle Cell Anaemia

Brief Facts You Should Know About Sickle Cell Anaemia

Sickle cell anaemia is a condition where a person has a shortage of healthy red blood cells. As a result, blood flow is blocked and causes pain.

Sickle cell anaemia is a red blood cell disorder and the most common hereditary blood disease. When a person has sickle cell anaemia it means that the protein haemoglobin, in the red blood cells has a rigid shape, and this makes the red blood cells take on a sickle or disc shape. Haemoglobin is responsible for distributing oxygen throughout your body and it is also what gives blood its red colour.

What is sickle cell anaemia?

what is sickle cell anaemia

The sickle shape of the red blood cells makes them come apart as they travel through your blood vessels. Usually, these cells should last you for 90 to 190 days, but the sickle cells only manage to last for barely 20 days. Now, this becomes a problem because your body cannot successfully manufacture new cells within 20 days. The time is just too short. So this leaves you with a shortage of cells and results in anaemia.

Furthermore, this isn't the only problem that may arise from having sickle-shaped cells. Since haemoglobin in your cells is responsible for moving oxygen throughout your body, another problem arises when your haemoglobin can no longer do its job of distributing oxygen. This happens when your sickle-shaped cells stick to the walls of your vessel, blocking the flow of blood to your organs. This lack of oxygen comes with severe pain to the body without warning, a condition known as pain crisis in sickle cell patients. When pain crisis happens, see your doctor for treatment immediately.

What causes this condition?

normal red blood cell vs sickled red blood cell

Sickle cell disease is hereditary. The gene is passed down from generation to generation in what is known as recessive inheritance. Although, for a child to end up with sickle cell anaemia, both parents must either be sickle cell patients or be sickle cell carriers. However, if only one parent passes down the sickle cell gene, the child gets the sickle cell trait.  What this means is that the child won't get the usual symptoms of sickle cell patients.

Symptoms and prevention of sickle cell

How to manage the condition

Signs and symptoms begin to manifest in the first year of a person's life, from five months on. The reason why symptoms don't show earlier than five months is because the baby's haemoglobin protects the child's cells from changing to a sickle shape. Afterwards, the haemoglobin begins to fade and the cells start to sickle. Symptoms can vary from person to person, and the disease worsens over time. The following are symptoms of sickle cell disease.

  • Hand-foot swelling

The first symptom of sickle cell disease is usually the swelling of hands, which comes with fever sometimes. This happens when the sickle cells prevent the flow of blood to your hands and feet. But you can manage this by taking pain medications and increasing your intake of water.

  • Pain crisis

Pain crisis is one reason why sickle cell patients are always in and out of hospitals. This attack usually comes without warning, and it happens when the sickle cells prevent blood from reaching the organs, causing pain that can last for a while. To prevent pain crisis, drink plenty of water and avoid getting too hot or too cold. Also, during crisis , medicines like ibuprofen and aspirin can help but try not to be in places where oxygen levels are low.

  • Anaemia

This symptom is common in most sickle cell patients. This happens when red blood cells die off too early and the body can't replace them quickly enough. As a result, oxygen circulation is low, with symptoms like tiredness, dizziness, and breathing difficulties manifesting. Anaemia can be treated with blood transfusions.

  • Serious chest pain

Chest pain in sickle cell patients is life-threatening and should be taken seriously. Take any sickle cell disease patient to the hospital immediately if they have serious chest pain. Treatment might include oxygen and medications to open up the airways.

  • Losing vision

Blindness can happen if the blood vessels in the eyes get blocked. In some patients, an extra blood vessel can develop in the eyes from lack of oxygen. Therefore, sickle cell patients should have their eyes frequently checked out for damage to the retina.

  • Stroke

About 10% of children with sickle cell disease have a stroke as a symptom. A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, which can cause learning disabilities in children. To prevent stroke, a doctor may recommend blood transfusions.

Essentially, before getting married, make sure you and your partner get tested to make sure you're both not sickle cell carriers.

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Written by

Lydia Ume