Let Us Partner with Your Child in Monitoring and Treating Sickle Cell Disease
Sickle cell disease is one of those unfortunate disorders that not only causes the potential for a variety of lifelong complications but which also disproportionately affects certain minority groups who live in the United States.
And, while the signs and symptoms of the disease usually appear around 5 months of age, its treatment and management is a lifelong effort that requires teaming up with trusted physicians early on so its progression can be continually monitored and its complications thoroughly addressed.
As the Fayetteville area’s highest-quality provider of compassionate and comprehensive medical care for children of all ages, the Rainbow Pediatrics team is eager to help infants and youths with sickle cell disease by taking on this critical role.
Our goal, as always, is to help ensure all kids enjoy the longest, healthiest, and most productive lives possible.
What is Sickle Cell Disease (SCD)?
A blood disorder that’s defined by the lack of normal, healthy red blood cells in the body, sickle cell disease (SCD) – the precursor condition that often leads to sickle cell anemia – affects an estimated 100,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
The defining feature of the disease is the presence of sickle-shaped (or C-shaped) red blood cells in the body.
As we may remember from health class, red blood cells, which contain hemoglobin, carry oxygen throughout our bodies. Typically, these cells are round and disc-shaped, allowing them to move freely within blood vessels. These are healthy red blood cells.
The sickle-shaped cells that exist in the bodies of those with SCD, in contrast – cells that are damaged from the disease – are harder and stickier. These traits, along with the shape of these cells, cause red blood cells to clump together and block blood flow.
As you can imagine, this can cause a number of major complications in the body, not the least of which is that it’s simply more difficult for parts of the body to receive the level of oxygen it needs to function optimally.
Sickle cells also die at an alarmingly faster rate than normal red blood cells, this shortage of healthy red cells causes anemia. And, since it’s harder for clumping red blood cells to flow through infection-filtering organs like the spleen, those with SCD are also way more prone to infections than the average child … or even adult.
Last but certainly not least, that lack of optimal blood flow in the body can lead to long bouts of pain and even swelling, also known as a sickle crisis. Often, these affect a person’s extremities, but with babies and infants, they can even feel the pain in fingers and toes.
Who is Affected by Sickle Cell Disease?
SCD is caused by mutations in a person’s genes – called the sickle cell gene – that were passed on by both the mother and the father. Those without sickle cell disease can be a gene carriers, but it requires both parents to be gene carriers for it to be passed along.
Also, based purely on demographic numbers, people of African or Caribbean descent are more likely to have a history of sickle cell disease in their families. SCD, in fact, occurs among about 1 in every 365 Black or African-American births, which is much higher than any other ethnic group in the U.S.
However, the sickle cell gene has also been found in people whose families are from the Middle East, India, Latin American, and the Mediterranean cultures.
According to the CDC, SCD occurs more among people from parts of the world where malaria is or was common. “It is believed,” the CDC states, “that people who carry the sickle cell trait are less likely to have severe forms of malaria.”
How is SCD Treated?
Sickle cell disease is treated differently for everyone. Options available, of course, depend on the symptoms that present from the disease as well as a child’s age and general level of health and wellness.
Most medical professionals agree, however, that early diagnosis is key in treating the disease. Based on this, some common preventative and treatment measures for youths with SCD include:
- Pain Medications: This, of course, is to treat the pain and swelling that comes during sickle crises.
- Staying Hydrated: Good hydration is important for optimal blood flow. This helps prevent and reduce the incidence of sickle crises.
- Vaccinations and Antibiotics: Since those with SCD are more prone to infection, keeping up with all suggested vaccinations can be critical. Also, some physicians will prescribe antibiotics for infants and toddlers who they feel are most at risk.
- Folic Acid Use: Folic acid can help prevent severe anemia.
- Regular Eye Exams: It’s important kids get regular screenings to test for retinopathy, an eye condition that can develop in those with SCD.
- Hydroxyurea: This medication may help reduce the number of sickle cells in the blood, also reducing complications and pain episodes.
- More Invasive Treatments: In more severe cases, blood transfusions have been used to treat anemia-related conditions. Also, recent studies have shown that stem cell transplants can cure some children with SCD.
Again, the key is to understand where you are – the severity of your child’s SCD and how exactly it’s affecting his or her health – before determining which treatment direction is best. And to do this, it helps to have a credible pediatric medical team at your side.
To learn more about how the Rainbow Pediatrics team provides optimal care for infants and children with sickle cell disease, contact us today!