Today marks World Sickle Cell Day.
And while celebrities such as TLC front woman T-Boz, football player Tiki Barbar, rapper Prodigy from Mobb Deep, and actor Larenz Tate all suffer from sickle cell, not too many people are sure what exactly the disease is.
Sickle cell is an inherited disease in which the red blood cells in your body are shaped in sickles with jagged edges as opposed to smooth ovals or discs. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body.
According to Pub Health Med, when the sickle-cell shaped cells are weak, they deliver less oxygen to the body’s tissues. These cells also can get stuck in the tiny blood vessels, breaking into little pieces and decreasing the amount of oxygen getting delivered.
Symptoms usually appear in babies between 4 months and 1 year old. People with sickle cell may experience extremely painful episodes, called crises, which can last from hours to days. Some people with sickle cell have these episodes every few years or every year. Sometimes these episodes can be so severe they force someone to be hospitalized.
Other symptoms include the following:
—Rapid heart rate
—Shortness of breath
—Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
—Swelling of hands and feet
—Lung and heart injury
It is estimated that between 90 to 100,000 Americans are living with sickle-cell anemia, many of them African-American and people of color. One out of every 500 Black babies is born with sickle cell one in 12 African-Americans are carriers of the sickle-cell anemia gene.
Both parents have to be carriers for the gene in order for their baby to be born with the disease. If both parents are carriers, with each pregnancy, there is a 25 percent chance of having a baby with sickle cell; 25 percent chance of their child not having sickle cell and not being a carrier for sickle-cell trait; or a 50 percent chance of having a child who is a carrier with sickle-cell trait, but who doesn't have sickle cell.
According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, there is treatment for sickle cell that aims at relieving pain and preventing infections, organ damage and strokes. Some people may receive blood and marrow stem cell transplants in hopes for a cure, but this only works for a few people who suffer from sickle cell. As of now, for most people living with sickle cell, there is no cure.
To learn more about sickle cell anemia and treatment go here.
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(Photo: Courtesy African American Blood Drive and Bone Marrow Registry for Sickle Cell Disease Awareness)