In the United States, you can typically expect to live almost 79 years; however, for someone with sickle cell disease, that number is considerably lower at only 45 years. There is hope though.
Greater awareness and improved therapies are making a difference in the lives of many people who have sickle cell disease, with screening as an important first step.
Sickle cell disease (SCD) is an inherited blood disorder. Common symptoms include frequent pain resulting from sickle cell crises, anemia and a greater risk of serious infections. Some also develop problems like strokes and lung difficulties.
While sickle cell disease can affect people of all races, it disproportionately affects people whose ancestors originated in Africa, and to a lesser degree, those with ancestors from Latin America and Mediterranean countries like Italy and Turkey. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 out every 365 African-American babies are born with sickle cell disease, while 1 in 13 African-American babies are born with the sickle cell trait.
It’s a matter of genetics, like hair color and eye color. Someone who inherits one abnormal copy of the haemoglobin gene receives the sickle cell trait – meaning they are a carrier for the disease while not suffering from it themselves. Children born to one or both parents who have either the trait or the disease will inherit the trait. But to have sickle cell disease, someone must have two abnormal copies of the haemoglobin gene. Children born to two parents who have either the trait or the disease have a 1 in 4 chance of being born with sickle cell disease.
Screening for the sickle cell trait and sickle cell disease is available for both children and adults through a simple blood test. Nowadays in the United States, newborns are often routinely screened for genetic disorders before being discharged from the hospital, but adults at any age can request screening or undergo genetic testing.
Sickle cell disease is a serious condition, but it is manageable, especially if it is identified as early as possible. If you haven’t already been screened, I encourage you to do so today.