Understanding Sickle Cell – Sickle Cell Advocacy & Management Initiative

Understanding Sickle Cell

Haemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen around the body within the red blood cells.

Many years ago, in a bid to fight malaria and allow humans live longer, the haemoglobin became distorted and was passed down from parents to offspring resulting in what is now known as sickle cell disorder

In certain conditions, this abnormal haemoglobin becomes distorted and due to its fragile nature, it is prone to rupture.

Normal red blood cells are round and very flexible making them easy to flow within blood vessels. Normal red blood cells live for 120 days (4month) before they die off and are replaced.

Sickled red blood cells are shaped like sickles or crescent moon. They live for only 10-20 days.

The human blood contains red blood cells, white blood cells (fights diseases) platelets (helps in blood clot) and plasma (which holds the blood cells together as one)

The blood contains antibodies, oxygen, nutrients….

When the sickle red blood dies so fast, it means people living with SCD have lesser nutrient, lesser oxygen, and fewer antibodies.

This means people living with SCD need foods rich in nutrients more frequently/often, they tire more easily since the have low oxygen supply and are prone to infections since the antibodies required to fight off infections are fewer.

When there is not enough oxygen in the body, the cells get stuck thereby blocking the blood vessel which results in extreme bone pains commonly called crises as well as other complications.

When both parents of the genotype AS, which is called the sickle cell trait passes the S genes to a child the result is sickle cell disorder.

Symptoms include but not limited to; intermittent and extreme bone pains (crisis), anemia, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and pale palms), chronic skin and bone ulcers (Osteomyelitis), stroke and organ damage. However, other variations of sickle cell exist which seem less problematic but still challenging which are the SC genotype (resulting from the AS/AC combination) and Beta thalassemia.

Written by

Maureen Nwachi

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