Blood Diseases

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month

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Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a common inherited blood disorder in the United States, affecting an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 Americans.

The Many Faces of Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease affects people of many racial and ethnic groups. In the United States, 1 in 500 African-American newborns has the disease. Other people affected include Hispanics, people of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent, and Asians. In addition, more than 2 million people carry the gene that allows them to potentially pass the disease on to their children.

About Sickle Cell Disease

In sickle cell disease, the red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a "sickle." The sickle cells die early, which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells. Also, when these blood cells travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow. This results in repeated episodes of severe pain, organ damage, serious infections, or anemia.

People with sickle cell disease can live full lives and enjoy most of the activities that other people do. There are things that people with sickle cell disease can do to stay as healthy as possible. Here are some examples:

  • Get regular checkups.Regular health checkups with a primary care doctor can help prevent some serious problems.
  • Prevent infections.Common illnesses, like the flu, can quickly become dangerous for a child with sickle cell disease. The best defense is to take simple steps to help prevent infections.See tips to help avoid getting an infection.
  • Learn healthy habits.People with sickle cell disease should drink 8 to 10 glasses of water every day and eat healthy food. They also should try not to get too hot, too cold, or too tired.
  • Look for clinical studies.New clinical research studies are happening all the time to find better treatments, and hopefully a cure, for sickle cell disease. People who take part in these studies might have access to new medicines and treatment options.
  • Get support.Find a patient support group or other organization in your community that can provide information, assistance, and support.

Sickle Cell Trait

Did you know?

Sickle cell disease occurs more often in people from parts of the world where malaria is or was common. It is believed that people who carry the sickle cell trait are less likely to be infected with malaria.

People who inherit one sickle cell gene and one normal gene have the sickle cell "trait." People with sickle cell trait usually do not have any of the symptoms of the disease. But, it is possible for a person with sickle cell trait to have complications of the disease under extreme conditions, such as:

  • High altitude (flying, mountain climbing, visiting cities with a high altitude)
  • Increased pressure (scuba diving)
  • Low oxygen (mountain climbing or exercising extremely hard, such as in military boot camp or when training for an athletic competition)
  • Dehydration (too little water in the body)

In addition, people with sickle cell trait can potentially pass the disease on to their children.

It's important to know whether or not you have sickle cell trait. Sickle cell trait is diagnosed with a simple blood test. People at high risk for having sickle cell trait are those whose ancestors come from Africa, South or Central America, the Caribbean, Mediterranean countries, India, and Saudi Arabia.

The Cost of Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease is a major health concern. People with sickle cell disease can have lifelong disabilities. The average life expectancy is 42 years for men and 48 years for women.1 In addition, the cost to people with the disease and the health care system is high. For example, hospital stays due to complications of sickle cell disease cost an estimated at $475 million during the period 1989-1993.2

A Public Health Approach

Right now, there are no data systems to find out how many people have sickle cell disease in the United States. CDC, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is working to develop a pilot surveillance system to help learn more about how many people have the disease and how it affects them.

In addition, CDC is helping to educate people a bout this disease. We have a website with information about the disease and tip sheets on how to stay healthy, how to prevent infections, and when to see the doctor. We are also developing new materials to help people better understand certain drug therapies and to raise awareness among students, teachers, and others in the community.

Help Spread the Word

Every September-during National Sickle Cell Awareness Month-community organizations, families, and others join together to spread the word about sickle cell disease.

For educational materials to display during Sickle Cell Awareness Month or to find out about activities in your area, contact the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America (SCDAA)Description: External Web Site Icon.

1.    Platt OS, Brambilla DJ, Rosse WF, Milner PF, Castro O, Steinberg MH, Klug PP. Mortality and sickle cell disease. Life expectancy and risk factors for early death. N Engl J Med 1994;330(23):1634-44.

2.    Ashley-Koch A, Yang Q, Olney RS. Sickle hemoglobin (HbS) allele and sickle cell disease: a HuGE review. Am J Epidemiol 2000;151(9):839-45.

More Information

Listen to a Podcast: Sickle Cell Disease: What You Should Know [PODCAST - 6:36 minutes]

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