Silence of Sickle Cell Disease Makes it Dangerous Killer of African-Americans

cover5By: Darwin Campbell,African-American News&Issues

When Rapper JayAre of the group Cali Swag District died over the weekend from Sickle Cell Anemia, it once again hammers home the need in the African American community to understand Sickle Cell Disease.

JayAre, 25, whose real name was Cahron Childs as reportedly admitted into a hospital last Thursday and went into cardiac arrest. The group, Cali Swag District, is best known for their international hit song “Teach Me How to Dougie,” which was accompanied by a popular dance.

In the United States, it’s estimated that sickle cell anemia affects 70,000–100,000 people, mainly African Americans. The disease occurs in about 1 out of every 500 African American births. Sickle cell anemia also affects Hispanic Americans. The disease occurs in more than 1 out of every 36,000 Hispanic American births.

What Is Sickle Cell Anemia?

The National Institute of Health and Centers for Disease Control lists Sickle cell anemia (uh-NEE-me-uh) as the most common form of sickle cell disease (SCD).

SCD is a serious disorder in which the body makes sickle-shaped red blood cells. “Sickle-shaped” means that the red blood cells are shaped like a crescent.

Normal red blood cells are disc-shaped and look like doughnuts without holes in the center. They move easily through your blood vessels. Red blood cells contain an iron-rich protein called hemoglobin (HEE-muh-glow-bin). This protein carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Sickle cells contain abnormal hemoglobin called sickle hemoglobin or hemoglobin S. Sickle hemoglobin causes the cells to develop a sickle, or crescent, shape.

Sickle cells are stiff and sticky. They tend to block blood flow in the blood vessels of the limbs and organs. Blocked blood flow can cause pain and organ damage. It can also raise the risk for infection.

The Houston Medical Forum focuses on a number of medical conditions affecting African-American and one that is the center of focus in June in sickle cell disease

World Sickle Cell Day is June 19th and happens in conjunction with the celebration of Juneteenth.

Who Is at Risk for Sickle Cell Anemia?

Sickle cell anemia is most common in people whose families come from Africa, South or Central America (especially Panama), Caribbean islands, Mediterranean countries (such as Turkey, Greece, and Italy), India, and Saudi Arabia. More than 2 million Americans have sickle cell trait. The condition occurs in about 1 in 12 African Americans.

Basic Overview

Sickle cell anemia is one type of anemia. Anemia is a condition in which your blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells. This condition also can occur if your red blood cells don’t contain enough hemoglobin.

Red blood cells are made in the spongy marrow inside the larger bones of the body. Bone marrow is always making new red blood cells to replace old ones. Normal red blood cells live about 120 days in the bloodstream and then die. They carry oxygen and remove carbon dioxide (a waste product) from your body.

In sickle cell anemia, the abnormal sickle cells usually die after only about 10 to 20 days. The bone marrow can’t make new red blood cells fast enough to replace the dying ones.

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited, lifelong disease. People who have the disease are born with it. They inherit two genes for sickle hemoglobin—one from each parent.

People who inherit a sickle hemoglobin gene from one parent and a normal gene from the other parent have a condition called sickle cell trait.

Sickle cell trait is different than sickle cell anemia. People who have sickle cell trait don’t have the disease. Like people who have sickle cell anemia, people who have sickle cell trait can pass the sickle hemoglobin gene to their children.

How Is Sickle Cell Anemia Diagnosed?

A simple blood test, done at any time during a person’s lifespan, can detect whether he or she has sickle hemoglobin. However, early diagnosis is very important.

In the United States, all States mandate testing for sickle cell anemia as part of their newborn screening programs. The test uses blood from the same blood samples used for other routine newborn screening tests. The test can show whether a newborn infant has sickle hemoglobin.

Test results are sent to the doctor who ordered the test and to the baby’s primary care doctor. It’s important to give the correct contact information to the hospital. This allows the baby’s doctor to get the test results as quickly as possible.

Health providers from a newborn screening follow-up program may contact you directly to make sure you’re aware of the test results.

If the test shows some sickle hemoglobin, a second blood test is done to confirm the diagnosis. The second test should be done as soon as possible and within the first few months of life.

The primary care doctor may send you to a hematologist for a second blood test. A hematologist is a doctor who specializes in blood diseases and disorders. This doctor also can provide treatment for sickle cell disease if needed.

Doctors also can diagnose sickle cell disease before birth. This is done using a sample of amniotic fluid or tissue taken from the placenta. (Amniotic fluid is the fluid in the sac surrounding a growing embryo. The placenta is the organ that attaches the umbilical cord to the mother’s womb.)

Testing before birth can be done as early as 10 weeks into the pregnancy. This testing looks for the sickle hemoglobin gene, rather than the abnormal hemoglobin that the gene makes.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Sickle Cell Anemia?

The signs and symptoms of sickle cell anemia vary. Some people have mild symptoms. Others have very severe symptoms and often are hospitalized for treatment.

Sickle cell anemia is present at birth, but many infants don’t show any signs until after 4 months of age.

The most common signs and symptoms are linked to anemia and pain. Other signs and symptoms are linked to the disease’s complications.

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