This picture shows healthy red blood cells under magnification.
This photograph shows a malformed red blood cell caused by sickle cell disease. Normal red blood cells are disc-shaped and fit through small blood vessels. Sickle-shaped red blood cells may become trapped in narrow vessels, creating blockages that can lead to tissue damage.
Sickle cell disease is the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, sickle cell disease affects between 70,000 and 100,000 Americans.
“Since 1989, the Illinois Department of Public Health has diagnosed more than 2,900 newborns with sickle cell disease,” said IDHP director Dr. Damon T. Arnold. “Newborn screening and parental education are critical to saving lives, especially in families with a history of the disease.”
Brandi Earp, regional epidemiologist at the Purchase District Health Department in Paducah, did not have numbers of sickle cell disease patients in Kentucky. She did say about one in 5,000 Americans have sickle cell disease. The condition appears to have evolved as a defense against malaria, as it provides some immunity and is most common in tropical regions. Earp said people of black heritage are the most common demographic with sickle cell disease with one in 400 suffering from it. One in 1,100 Hispanics also suffer from sickle cell disease.
“One in 12 African Americans have the sickle cell disease trait. They may not have the disease, but could still pass it on,” Earp said. “In fact, there is about a one-in-four chance of passing it on.”
According to the Sickle Cell Disease Foundation website at http://www.sicklecelldisease.org, a gene in the body causes sored blood cells in the body to form in a crescent or sickle shape instead of the natural circular shape. Normal red blood cells are shaped to pass through narrow blood vessels. Sickle-shaped cells do not easily pass through narrow blood vessels like capillaries and tissue damage may result.
Earp said sickle cell disease may result in swelling of the hands and feet, intense pain, body sores and infection. If caught in the brain, sickle cells can also lead to stroke. Severe cases of sickle cell disease may be treated with blood transfusions or bone marrow transplants, she added. Sickle cell disease is detected through blood tests.
“It’s important for people with sickle cell disease to avoid extreme conditions like getting too hot, too cold or too tired,” Earp said. “Exercise is okay, but it’s important not to overdo things. People need regular vaccines and frequent checkups with sickle cell.”
Earp added people with sickle cell disease should practice good hand-washing and thorough hygiene to avoid infection.