Sickle cell anemia is a serious inherited blood disorder where the red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body, develop abnormally. Normal red blood cells are flexible and disc-shaped, but in sickle cell anemia they can can become rigid and shaped like a crescent (or sickle). The abnormal cells are also unable to move around as easily as normal shaped cells and can block blood vessels, resulting in tissue and organ damage and episodes of severe pain.
The sickle cell gene is inherited (passed on between family members). To get sickle cell anemia you have to inherit the defective gene from both parents.
The symptoms of sickle cell anaemia can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. If complications develop, these can be very serious. Possible complications include:
- stroke – where the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off
- increased vulnerability to infection
- acute chest syndrome – where the lungs suddenly lose their ability to breathe in oxygen (often the result of an infection)
- pulmonary hypertension – where the blood pressure inside the blood vessels that connect the heart to the lungs becomes dangerously high
However, following improvements in preventative treatment, many complications associated with sickle cell anemia can be avoided. The life expectancy of a person with sickle cell disease has increased significantly over recent decades. A person with the condition can expect to live into their late 40s or early 50s.
According to data, Sickle Cell can almost be tagged a Nigerian disease as Nigeria is said to have the highest number of people living with Sickle Cell Anaemia. Over 40 million Nigerians are healthy carriers of the sickle cell gene, and each year, over 150,000 babies are born with sickle cell anaemia (Hb SS). This is by far the largest burden of the disorder anywhere in the world and most of these children would die in childhood from ignorance and lack of access to proper diagnosis and care. This is why people are encouraged to know their genotypes and also go for counseling to be able to make informed decisions.
With several activities lined up this week to create awareness for Sickle Cell Anaemia, we encourage everyone to take some time out to engage in some of the activities. Please visit; http://www.scaf.org.ng/post-world_sickle_cell_day_2015 ; for a list of these events. We hope to see you there.