September is Sickle Cell awareness month, an annual event held to help promote education and awareness surrounding the disease. Approximately 100,000 Americans are affected by Sickle Cell Disease (SCD), while more than two million individuals carry the gene that means they may pass it onto their children.1

People affected by SCD (of which a disproportionate number are African Americans) suffer from low levels of, and abnormally (sickle) shaped, red blood cells. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which gives blood its red color and carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. Red blood cells normally live up to 120 days, but in a person with SCD they only live for 60 days; this inhibits the ability to carry oxygen around the body.2

Pain episodes and infections such as the flu, meningitis, hepatitis, hand-foot syndrome, eye disease, stroke, and acute chest syndrome (ACS) are most often cited as complications of SCD. Pain is due to the abnormal sickle shape of the red blood cells, which causes them to get stuck and clog blood flow.2

There is no definitive cure for SCD, but a diagnosis should also not discourage individuals from living full and enriching lives. Treatments are available to help relieve pain and prevent complications. Being properly informed is also important, as there are some simple measures that can help with managing SCD. Beginning at birth to about 2 years of age, children should see a doctor every 2−3 months and annually.3 SCD patients should also maintain a healthy diet to help prevent pain and infections. Early in development, children should be encouraged to participate in physical activities and taught the importance of drinking plenty of water (at least 8−10 glasses of water each day) and of getting plenty of rest.3 Coping with SCD can be made easier by finding a support group or community-based organization that can provide information, assistance, and support when needed most.

Visit Sickle Cell Support Group for information about SCD and a list of available services, as well as recommendations to help with pain management.4 Also the American Sickle Cell Anemia Association (ASCAA), ASCAA Support Groupsprovides a list of support groups available in the United States for patients seeking support.5

Josephine Di Laura