National Sickle Cell Awareness Month is held every Septemeber. It’s a chance to learn more about the disorder to spread awareness and education. Next Step has a few programs for teens and young adults living with sickle cell but first, let’s talk about what sickle cell disease is.
Sickle cell disease or sickle cell anemia is a hereditary blood disorder that affects people of African and Mediterranean descent. It causes red blood cells to become sickle or crescent moon shaped. Red blood cells are the part of the blood that carries oxygen around the body. These sickled cells have a hard time moving through veins and arteries and can get stuck together blocking blood flow and causing complications. One of our young people living explains it as, “Imagine the Patriots are in a playoff game at Gillette Stadium and all the fans can only get in through one entrance. There’d be a whole lot of pushing and fussing, but not a lot of people would get into the stadium.”
Instances like these cause complications including:
- Low red blood cell counts, called anemia
- Yellow eyes or jaundice
- Pain episodes
- Increased risk of infection
- Bone damage, including damage to hips and shoulders thinning of the bone, called avascular necrosis
- Lung disease, called acute chest syndrome
- and more
Currently, there aren’t many treatment options. The main options are hydroxyurea (medication) and blood transfusions. When a pain crisis occurs pain relievers and IV fluids are administered. Each case as each person is an individual with some being more affected than others. Many young people miss countless number of school days because of their sickle cell anemia.
There is a shortage of providers that know what to look for how and to treat a pain episode. Patients with sickle cell often experience prejudice and disbelief in the emergency department. With education and awareness, there is hope that the patients get timely and appropriate care.
Please learn more about sickle cell disease. Here are some great resources: