Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder that affects red cells. September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month and a good time to note the ways in which blood donation can help patients.
“Healthy red blood cells are round, and they move through small blood vessels to carry oxygen to all parts of the body. In someone who has [sickle cell disease], the red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a ‘sickle,’ ” explains the CDC. Those sickle cells don’t last as long as regular cells, causing a shortage of red blood cells. The sickle cells can also get stuck in small blood vessels, clogging blood flow. “This can cause pain and other serious problems such as infection, acute chest syndrome and stroke.”
Sickle cell anemia is the most common form of sickle cell disease, which is an inherited disorder. Sickle cell anemia affects 70,000–100,000 people in the United States, mainly African Americans. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the disease occurs in about 1 out of every 500 African American births and 1 out of every 36,000 Hispanic American births.
The transfusion of donated blood is among the treatments for people with sickle cell disease. “Blood transfusions help benefit sickle cell disease patients by reducing recurrent pain crises, risk of stroke and other complications,” states the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America. Patients who receive repeated transfusions can accumulate iron in the body, and may need treatment to avoid iron overload.
A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that regular blood transfusions reduced the risk of silent stokes and other strokes in children with sickle cell anemia. Silent strokes do not show immediate symptoms but can still cause damage to the brain. Silent strokes are believed to affect one in three children with sickle cell anemia.