World Sickle Cell Day
Each year, over 250,000 children are affected by sickle cell anaemia worldwide. 90% of children born with this condition in developing countries die in their first 5 years of life due to lack of treatment options. The number of sickle cell anaemia cases is expected to increase by 30% globally by the year 2050.
What is Sickle Cell Anaemia?
Sickle cell disease or sickle cell anaemia is a genetic condition that involves the red blood cells having an abnormal shape; instead of being round shaped and flexible, they become crescent shaped, rigid and sticky.
This condition can slow down blood and oxygen flow to parts of the body. It has no cure but there are treatments to relieve pain and to help prevent any complications that may arise from the condition.
About World Sickle Cell Awareness Day
The world sickle cell awareness day has been held each year on 19th Jun, since 2008; to raise public awareness about the condition, share the struggle of those that suffer from the condition and their families and get effective control over the disease.
This year’s theme; Walk for Hope, which aims at making the facts about this condition known worldwide and the best treatment for it.
Symptoms of Anaemia
The symptoms for this condition vary from one individual to the other and they may change over time. They may include:
- Episodes of pain which are referred to as crises which occur when blood flow to the chest, abdomen and joints is blocked.
- Painful swelling of the hands and feet due to blocked blood flow
- Anaemia which occurs due to lack of enough red blood cells
- Delayed growth
- Problems with vision
- Having frequent infections due to damage of the spleen
- Abdominal swelling
- Pale skin or nail beds
- Having a yellow tint to the skin or white part of the eyes
You may also experience stroke symptoms such as:
- one-sided paralysis,
- weakness of the arms,
- face or legs, confusion,
- trouble talking or walking,
- vision problems and headaches.
Causes of Sickle Cell Anaemia
The most common cause of sickle cell anaemia is gene inheritance from both parents. Gene mutation in the gene that help in making haemoglobin which is the component that gives blood its red colour and allows red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. Sickle cell anaemia therefore, occurs in children whose both parents carry a sickle cell gene.
Diagnosis of Sickle Cell Anaemia
It is important to test new-borns so as to start early treatment for those who have sickle cell disease. Tests for this condition is done through carrying out:
- Blood test which can be used to check:
• for the defective form of haemoglobin that causes sickle cell anaemia, and
• the low red blood cell count; that is, anaemia.
2.Fluid test: A test can also be done before a baby is born to diagnose sickle cell anaemia through testing the amniotic fluid for the sickle cell gene.
There is currently no cure for sickle cell anaemia, however, there are treatments that can be used to avoid crises, prevent complications and relieve symptoms for the condition. These treatments include:
- Medications: The medicines used in the treatment of anaemia include::
1. Antibiotics: These can be given to children when they are about 2 months old until they are 5 to help in preventing infections such as pneumonia. Adults who have had their spleen removed or have had pneumonia might need to take penicillin throughout their life.
2. Pain-relievers: These are used to relieve pain during sickle cell crisis.
3. Hydroxyurea: These medicines on the other hand, reduce the frequency of painful crisis and they might reduce the need for blood transfusion and hospitalization.
- Blood transfusion: This occurs when red blood cells are removed from a donated blood and given to a person with sickle cell anaemia intravenously. This increases the number of normal red blood cells in circulation thereby relieving anaemia. In children, regular blood transfusions can reduce the risk of getting stroke.
- Bone marrow transplant: This involves replacing bone marrow affected by sickle cell anaemia with healthy bone marrow harvested from a donor.
- Vaccinations: These are done to prevent infections in children with sickle cell as infections in them can be severe.
- Treatment of sickle cell complications: Such treatments like surgery can be done to correct vision and to remove a damaged spleen.
Prevention of Sickle Cell Anaemia
For people who carry the sickle cell gene, it is important to see a genetic counselor before having children so as to understand your risk of having a child with sickle cell anaemia.
- Get screened regularly
- Have your unborn baby tested for the condition
- Maintain a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruits and other nutrients that are good for your body
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid changes in altitude and temperature
- Avoid stress
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