Sickle cell anemia: symptoms, causes and how to treat!

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited form of anemia, a condition in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen throughout the body. Normally, your red blood cells are flexible and round, moving easily through your blood vessels. In addition, red blood cells become stiff and sticky and are shaped like sickles or crescent moons.

These irregularly shaped cells can become trapped in small blood vessels, which can slow or block blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body. There is no cure for most people with sickle cell anemia . But treatments can relieve pain and help prevent problems associated with the disease.

Causes of sickle cell anemia:

Sickle cell anemia  is caused by a mutation in the gene that tells your body to produce the red, iron-rich compound that gives blood its red color (hemoglobin). Hemoglobin allows red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. In sickle cell anemia  , abnormal hemoglobin causes red blood cells to become stiff, sticky, and misshapen.

The sickle cell gene is passed from generation to generation in an inheritance pattern called autosomal recessive inheritance. This means that both the mother and father must pass on the defective form of the gene in order for a child to be affected.

If only one parent passes the sickle cell gene to the child, that child will have the sickle cell trait. With a normal hemoglobin gene and a defective form of the gene, people with sickle cell trait produce both normal hemoglobin and sickle cell hemoglobin. Your blood  may contain some sickle cells, but they usually have no symptoms. But they are carriers of the disease, which means they can pass the gene on to their children.

Sickle cell anemia symptoms:

Signs and symptoms that vary from person to person and change over time include;

  • Anemia:  Sickle cells easily break down and die, leaving you without enough red blood cells;
  • Pain episodes: Periodic episodes of pain, called crises, are one of the main symptoms of Sickle Cell Anemia ;
  • Painful swelling of hands and feet: The swelling is caused by sickle-shaped red blood cells that block blood flow to the hands and feet;
  • Frequent infections: Sickle cells can damage an infection -fighting organ (spleen), leaving you more vulnerable to infections ;
  • Delayed growth: Red blood cells provide your body with the oxygen and nutrients it needs for growth;
  • Vision problems:  Small blood vessels that supply your eyes can become clogged with sickle cells. This can damage the retina – the part of the eye that processes visual images, leading to vision problems.

Treatment of sickle cell anemia:

Bone marrow transplantation, also known as stem cell transplantation, offers the only potential cure for sickle cell anemia . It is usually reserved for people under the age of 16, because the risks increase for people over the age of 16. Finding a donor is difficult, and the procedure has serious risks associated with it, including death.

As a result, treatment for sickle cell anemia is  usually aimed at preventing flare-ups, alleviating symptoms, and preventing complications. Babies and children up to 2 years old should make frequent visits to a doctor.

Children over age 2 and adults should see a doctor at least once a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, treatments may include medications to reduce pain and prevent complications and blood transfusions , as well as a bone marrow transplant .

Prevention of sickle cell anemia:

If you have sickle cell trait, seeing a genetic counselor before trying to conceive can help you understand your risk of having a child with sickle cell anemia . It can also explain possible treatments, preventive measures and reproductive options.

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