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How will you know if you have the Trait?

There are simple blood tests that can be done to check if you have Sickle Cell Trait. Please go to your nearest health facility for more information and guidance. Knowing your Sickle Cell status will help you and your spouse /partner to make decisions if you want to start a family or have more children.

 

SICKLE CELL DISEASE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease often don't appear until an infant is at least 4 months old. This is because when a child is born, they have a different type of Haemoglobin called Haemoglobin F (HbF).

This type of Haemoglobin cannot form sickle red blood cells. However at four months of age HbF is replace by the adult Haemoglobin known as HbA which in sickle cell disease is changed into sickle Haemoglobin (HbS). The following are the most common signs and symptoms:

Anaemia: Anaemia is a situation where one has lower than normal amount of Hemoglobin in their blood. Most individuals with sickle cell disease have some degree of anaemia. This is because sickle cells are fragile. They break apart easily and die, leaving you without a good supply of red blood cells.

Red blood cells usually live for about 120 days before they die and need to be replaced. But sickle cells die after an average of less than 20 days. This results in a lasting shortage of red blood cells (anemia). Without enough red blood cells in circulation, your body can't get the oxygen it needs to feel energized and that is why anemia causes fatigue/tiredness.

Jaundice: A yellow tint to the skin or whites of the eyes is one of the commonest sign of SCD. This is caused by accumulation of bile which is in excess due to the fact that sickle red blood cell are broken down every four weeks compared to four months in the normal red blood cell.

The broken red cells are processed in the liver to form bile. If there is too much bile in the body then the yellowish tint gets worse. Most sickle cell patients have a bit of jaundice all the time.

Abdominal swelling: This is mostly caused by the enlarged spleen. One of the functions of the spleen is to help in the process of producing red blood cell, because of anaemia in SCD, the spleen is overworked and therefore it becomes bigger than usual.

Episodes of pain: People with sickle cell disease might have times where they feel severe pain in their chest, stomach, arms, legs, or other parts of the body. This happens because sickle cells block blood flow through the small blood vessels in those areas.

Periods of pain are commonly referred to as pain crises. How severe these crises are, how long they last, and how often they happen depends on the person. Some people may have one sickle cell pain crisis a year. Others will have crises more often. Pain crises can be brief or last hours, days, or even weeks. Sometimes pain can be severe enough to require treatment in the hospital.

Hand-foot syndrome: Swollen hands and feet may be the first signs of sickle cell anemia in babies. The swelling is caused by sickle-shaped red blood cells blocking blood flow out of their hands and feet. This condition is also known as dactylitis.

Frequent infections, sickle cells can damage your spleen, an organ that fights infection. This may make you more vulnerable to infections.

COMPLICATIONS OF SICKLE CELL DISEASE

Sickle cell disease may result into mild to severe complications

Acute chest syndrome: This life-threatening complication of SCD, causing severe chest and abdominal pain, fever, cough, and trouble breathing. Acute chest syndrome can be caused by a lung infection or by sickle cells blocking blood vessels in your lungs. It may require emergency medical treatment with antibiotics and other treatments.

Delayed growth: Red blood cells provide your body with the oxygen and nutrients you need for growth. A shortage of healthy red blood cells can slow growth in infants and children and delay puberty in teenagers. Children with SCD may grow more slowly and reach puberty later than other people.

Stroke: Stroke can occur if sickle cells block blood flow to an area of the brain. Signs of stroke include seizures, weakness or numbness of your arms and legs, sudden speech difficulties, and loss of consciousness. If your baby or child has any of these signs and symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately.

Pulmonary hypertension: People with sickle cell anemia can also develop high blood pressure in their lungs (pulmonary hypertension). This complication usually affects adults rather than children. Shortness of breath and fatigue are common symptoms of this condition.

Organ damage: Sickle cells can block blood flow through blood vessels, immediately depriving an organ of blood and oxygen. In sickle cell anemia, blood is also chronically low on oxygen. Chronic deprivation of oxygen-rich blood can damage nerves and organs in your body, including your kidneys, liver and spleen.

Vision problems: Some people with sickle cell anemia experience vision problems. Tiny blood vessels that supply your eyes may become plugged with sickle cells. This can damage the retina — the portion of the eye that processes visual images

Skin ulcers: Sickle cell anemia can cause open sores or wounds, called ulcers, on your legs. Theses ulcers do not heal easily due to limited supply of oxygen to these areas.

Gallstones: The breakdown of red blood cells produces a substance called bilirubin. A high level of bilirubin in your body can lead to gallstones.

Priapism: Men/boys with sickle cell anemia may experience painful, long-lasting erections, a condition called priapism. As occurs in other parts of the body, sickle cells can block the blood vessels in the penis. If this condition occurs, please go to your nearest hospital immediately.

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