Sickle cell anemia is a disease that affects the red blood cells (RBC) and causes them to become abnormally shaped. For instance, instead of the RBC being a circular shape they sickle or form a C shape. As a result, the abnormality can result in damage to the organs, chronic anemia, painful episodes and serious infections. Individuals can’t catch the disease. It is inherited from two parents with the sickle cell trait. The types of sickle cell disease individuals inherit depend on the genes their parents have.
One type of sickle cell disorder is anemia. With sickle cell anemia, the RBCs that carry oxygen and remove carbon dioxide from the body aren't sufficiently produced. In fact, they don’t make the normal amount of RBC. These cells are made in the spongy marrow inside the bones in the body that continuously produce new RBC to replace the old. In addition, the cells die faster than normal. Typically, the RBCs live for approximately 120 days. However, with sickle cell, they die in 10 to 20 days.
With this type of sickle cell, individuals inherit the hemoglobin S gene from one parent and the hemoglobin C gene from another. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, this type is a mild form of sickle cell anemia. Like with the hemoglobin SS type, the cells are abnormally shaped. However, in addition to looking like a sickle, they can be football-shaped or look folded.
Hemoglobin S Beta thalassemia occurs when individuals inherit the beta thalassemia gene from one parent and the hemoglobin S gene from the other. As a result, the cells are smaller, look more pale than normal and are abnormal. This type of sickle cell is also a mild form of the disorder. However, individuals can still suffer anemia or a low RBC count. Individuals with this type of sickle cell inherit an abnormal hemoglobin gene and a sickle cell gene. Even though this is a rare form of the anemia, it still has the same symptoms associated with sickle cell anemia. Hemoglobin O Arab usually affects individuals from the Middle East, the Balkans and sometimes Africans.
According to Medline Plus, symptoms usually begin at 4 months of age. Symptoms of sickle cell, no matter the type, include bone pain, breathlessness, fever, abdominal pain and fatigue. Rapid heart rate, infections, chest pain, frequent urination, ulcers on the legs and jaundice are other symptoms. These symptoms can last for hours or days. Other symptoms can include delayed growth and puberty, strokes and blindness.
Treatment includes a bone marrow transplant. Although this is a cure for the disease, it is a risky procedure. People with sickle cell have to be matched with a suitable donor. However, if a bone marrow transplant is not an option, people can still live normal lives with other treatments. For instance, children can take two doses of penicillin a day until they are 5 years old. Adults can be prescribed hydroxyurea to increase hemoglobin in RBC and decrease painful episodes.