Sickle cell disease is a genetic blood disorder that affects hemoglobin in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen to all parts of the body. Normal red blood cells are round and smooth. In a child with sickle cell disease, red blood cells are hard, sticky and shaped like a crescent.
The three most common types of sickle cell disease include:
- Hemoglobin SS disease (also called sickle cell anemia)
- Hemoglobin SC disease
- Sickle cell beta thalassemia
Sicke cell complications
Sickled red blood cells stick together and block blood vessels, which case cause complications such as:
- Acute chest syndrome: Sudden damage to lung tissue is common in children with sickle cell.
- Aplastic crisis: The body stops making red blood cells for a short time, causing a drop in your child’s red blood count.
- Fever and infection: a fever is usually a sign of infection. Infections are a medical emergency for a child with sickle cell disease.
- Gallstones: A child with sickle cell has more bile (a liquid that is used to break down the fats we eat) than his gallbladder can hold. The extra bile causes gallstones. Gallstones can cause a yellow color of the skin or eyes (jaundice).
- Jaundice: When fragile sickle cells break open, bilirubin (a yellow pigment in bile) leaks into the blood stream causing the skin eyes to turn yellow (jaundice).
- Nephropathy: When sickle red blood cells get trapped inside the blood vessels of the kidneys, causing kidney damage.
- Pain: Sickle red blood cells get stuck and block the flow of blood to parts of the body, such as the bones, lungs, spleen, brain, eyes and kidneys, causing pain.
- Retinopathy: Sickle cell can damage the retina in the eyes.
- Splenic sequestration crisis: The spleen suddenly gets swollen because sickle red blood cells block the blood vessels inside the spleen. This can lead to shock and is an emergency for children with sickle cell disease.
- Stroke: A blockage or bleeding of the blood vessels can cause a loss of blood supply to part of the brain (a stroke). Strokes occur more often in children ages 2 to 5, but can occur at any age.
How Can Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Help?
Comprehensive services, technology and innovative research
Our focus is on prevention, treatment and follow-up care for sickle cell disease and its complications. We offer the following services to our patient families:
- 24-hour acute care
- Health maintenance services
- Comprehensive clinics, located at three sites in metro Atlanta
- Specialty clinics
- Transfusion services
- Newborn screening and follow-up
- New patient evaluations
- Genetic counseling: Helping parents understand sickle cell trait and how it can be passed along to their children
- Patient counseling and education: Teaching families tips on how to prevent infections, pain and other health problems related to sickle cell disease
Just as important, we offer innovative services, technology and research to manage—and even cure—sickle cell disease.
- Stem cell transplant: The only potential cure for sickle cell disease. We are a national leader in transplanting stem cells for children with sickle cell disease.
- Hydroxyurea: A medicine that can help reduce sickle cell symptoms and improve quality of life. It helps red blood cells stay soft, round and slippery.
- Transcranial doppler (TCD) screening: To evaluate patients for stroke risk.
- Clinical trials: We are searching for better treatments, prevention and cures through our research efforts.
How can you help?
“Your child has sickle cell disease.” These are words that no parent ever wants to hear. As the largest pediatric sickle cell disease program in the country, Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center is committed to providing these children with a brighter future, but we need your help.