Key facts about Sickle Cell Disease

It is a genetic disorder in the blood that turns red blood cells into the shape of a sickle. This often prevents adequate blood and oxygen from reaching vital organs in the body, leading to many life-threatening complications. It can lower life expectancy by about 20 years.

Anybody can get the disease. However, it has been known to be more common among people of African descent. Children are especially at risk.

There is a chance of your child developing sickle cell disease when both you and your partner have the sickle cell trait in your blood.

When you have the trait, you may have a few red blood cells shaped like a sickle but the majority of your cells are formed in the normal round shape. Having the trait alone does not make your sick. 

Your child can inherit the trait when you or your partner has it. Although your child will not have the disease, he or she will be a carrier of the trait like you and could pass it down to future offspring.

It is very important to get tested and know whether you or your partner has the trait so as to always make informed decisions when starting a family. A simple blood test called Hb electrophoresis can confirm your status. This test is readily available in BAFROW and only takes a few minutes.

People with the disease have many symptoms. The most common is intense and often unpredictable pain, also known as pain crisis. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Acute chest syndrome
  • Chronic Anaemia
  • Fever
  • Infections
  • Blood clots
  • Vision loss
  • Liver and kidney problems
  • Respiratory problems
  • Deterioration of bone tissue
  • Organ damage
  • Stroke

There is no cure for most people with sickle cell disease.

The only known way of curing this disease is through bone marrow transplant. This procedure is very painful and can only be successful if the right bone marrow donor can be found. For some people, this could be a long and painful wait. For many more, the procedure is unaffordable. 

For most of their lives, people with the disease will require emergency medical care at health facility level to treat or manage pain crises and other complications.  

  • You can go to your nearest health facility and get tested for the sickle cell trait
  • You can encourage your partner to get tested before deciding to have children

If you live with somebody who has the disease:

  • Make sure that they have the proper medication, care and support at home. Do not underestimate their pain.
  • Make sure you have a good health care provider and ensure that they get regular medical check-ups
  • Educate yourself about how to help them keep healthy and avoid things that could make them sick