If you’re a fan of ours on Facebook you should know by now that September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month, and while we’re more than proud to participate in social awareness of the disease by rocking bold lips on a daily basis, we also feel it’s important to educate readers on this disease, why African Americans are so affected by it, and why awareness — and more research — is needed. So, check out this quick guide to Sickle Cell which we hope will not only entice you to pull out a bright tube of lipstick and post a selfie to Instagram, but get involved with efforts in your cities, and donate to national funds in hopes of one day finding not just more treatments for Sickle Cell, but a cure.
WHAT IS SICKLE CELL DISEASE?
Sickle Cell Disease’s name is rather literal. The disease is characterized by the body making sickle-shaped blood cells, which in contrast to normal disc-shaped red blood cells that move easily through blood vessels, are stiff and tend to get stuck in blood vessels. The abnormal amount of hemoglobin in these blood cells is what causes them to become sickle or crescent shaped and consequently these cells tend to block blood flow in the blood vessels of limbs and organs which can cause pain, organ damage, and also raise the risk of infection.
While the severity of these symptoms varies greatly from person to person, individuals living with Sickle Cell Disease may experience severe pain in the chest, back, arms, legs, and abdomen, although pain can occur anywhere in the body. Sickle-shaped red blood cells in the lungs can cause severe illness with chest pain, fever, and difficulty breathing and Sickle Cell Disease can also cause permanent damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, and bones.
Sickle Cell Disease is most common among populations with ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa, although descendants of people from South America, the Caribbean, Central America, Saudi Arabia, India, and Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Greece, and Italy are also affected. According to the CDC, 90,000 to 100,000 Americans are currently affected by Sickle Cell Disease. Sickle Cell occurs among approximately 1 out of every 500 African American births and about 1 in 12 African Americans carry the Sickle Cell trait.
If one parent has Sickle Cell Anemia and the other is normal, all of the children will have the sickle cell trait.
If one parent has Sickle Cell Anemia and the other has the Sickle Cell trait, there is a 50% chance of having a baby with either sickle cell disease or the sickle cell trait with each pregnancy.
When both parents have the Sickle Cell trait, there is a 25% chance of having a baby with Sickle Cell Disease with each pregnancy.
A number of complications can arise from Sickle Cell Disease, including stroke, acute chest syndrome, pulmonary hypertension, organ damage, blindness, and skin ulcers.
In 1973, the life expectancy for someone with Sickle Cell Disease was only 14 years. Now, an individual with Sickle Cell can live as long as 50 years or more, with women typically living longer than their male counterparts.
HOW DO YOU COPE?
While there is no cure for Sickle Cell Disease, the marked increase in life expectancy can be attributed to a number of treatment developments over the years. Children with Sickle Cell Anemia are highly susceptible to infection, therefore they may begin taking the antibiotic penicillin from about 2 months of age up until age 5 to ward off infections like pneumonia, which can be life-threatening to an infant or child with Sickle Cell Anemia.
When taken daily, Hydroxyurea has been shown to reduce the frequency of painful crises as well as the need for blood transfusions by stimulating production of fetal hemoglobin — a type of hemoglobin found in newborns that helps prevent the formation of sickle cells. The downside is Hydroxyurea increases risk of infection, and there is reportedly some concern that long-term use of this drug may cause tumors or leukemia in certain people although this hasn’t yet been seen in studies of the drug.
In some cases, bone marrow transplants have been proven to be a cure for Sickle Cell Disease, but only about 500 such procedures have been done around the country due to the difficulty of finding a match, plus there’s a high risk of a complicating stroke and bleeding and infection as a result of the transplant.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America is currently accepting donations f0r research and treatment online.
The Red Cross also accepts blood donations for Sickle Cell patients in need of blood transfusions. For information on how to donate, visit the Red Cross here.
Rock #BoldLipsForSickleCell all month to raise awareness among friends and family and get others involved.