World Sickle Cell Day a day to raise awareness, knowledge

Crawford Strunk, MD

        June 19 is internationally recognized as World Sickle Cell Awareness Day, which is a great opportunity to increase public knowledge and understanding of sickle cell disease.
        According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sickle cell disease affects approximately 100,000 Americans.
        Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects red blood cells. The CDC estimates that in the United States, sickle cell disease occurs among one out of every 365 Black or African American births and one out of every 16,300 Hispanic American births.
        People with sickle cell disease have red blood cells that contain mostly hemoglobin S, an abnormal type of hemoglobin. When the cells become sickle shaped due to the abnormal hemoglobin, the red blood cells can become sticky, causing small blood vessels to become blocked. Tissue damage occurs when less blood reaches different parts of the body, which, in turn, can cause the pain normally associated with sickle cell disease.
        Over time, due to the sickling of the red blood cells, patients can develop chronic organ damage. Sickle cell disease can be diagnosed with a simple blood test, usually done at birth. Symptoms of sickle cell disease usually present around 5 months of age.
        Currently, there is no universal cure for sickle cell disease except for a bone marrow transplant. Bone marrow transplants are only used in severe cases of sickle cell disease and are oftentimes risky.
        However, many people with sickle cell disease live a full, active life by managing pain and symptoms appropriately. Treatment options vary from person to person, but healthy habits such as staying hydrated, keeping up to date with vaccinations, taking medication as prescribed and eating healthy can help prevent a sickle cell crisis.
        Crawford Strunk, MD, is director, ProMedica Sickle Cell Disease and Hemoglobinopathy Clinic.


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