Our History With Sickle Cell

Why We Have It and How to Navigate
By Cheyenne Tyler Jacobs

Sickle Cell Disease is an inherited red blood cell disorder in which the red blood cells have a C-shape called a “Sickle” and become hard and sticky. The shape of the blood cells can create clogs and stop blood flow, and they die early, which causes a shortage of red blood cells in the body, according to research.

According to the American Society of Hematology, about 8 to 10 percent of African-Americans have an inherited sickle cell trait. The Sickle Cell trait is more prevalent in African-Americans than in any other group due to our ancestral need for different blood cells. One research study, Malaria and Early African Development: Evidence from the Sickle Cell Trait, found sickle cell shows our connection to our African ancestors since those with sickle cell disease are less impacted by malaria. Another study found that African-Americans will sickle cell have more of a genetic connection to those from the Yoruban, Mandenka, and Bantu populations.

There are different forms of sickle cell disease, depending on parents’ genetically inherited codes. The more common types are HbSS, HbSC, and HbS beta thalassemia. These codes are determined at birth with abnormal hemoglobin.

According to the CDC, the diagnosis of sickle cell can be made while the baby is still in the womb or during a newborn baby’s routine bloodwork. The earlier sickle cell diagnosis, the sooner families can understand the impact and symptoms and navigate treatment and proper medical care. Those with sickle cell can experience the following:

Sickle Cell complications:

  • Acute Chest Syndrome Includes cough, chest pain, and symptoms that can mirror pneumonia.
  • Anemia: Not enough red blood cells can cause fatigue, irritability, and delayed puberty.
  • Kidney Problems: Bedwetting, blood in urine, and high blood pressure.
  • Organ damage: Irregular heartbeat, swelling of hands and feet, yellowing the skin, organ failure.
  • Pulmonary Hypertension: Lightheaded, dizziness, fatigue, difficulty breathing.

Knowing what can happen will help manage a sickle cell crisis that can cause throbbing, stabbing, or severe pain. Below are ways that researchers believe can lower the odds of a crisis.

  • Stay hydrated
  • Avoid cold weather and swimming in cold water
  • Manage stress
  • Limit smoking and alcohol
  • Keep up with other health concerns and medical appointments.

Having a medical provider and support team that can help advocate for good care and support in the needed way is essential. Navigating sickle cell can be overwhelming when physical pain and mental stress start weighing on an individual. We encourage everyone to look into the HUED directory if a medical provider is needed and get a formal sickle cell diagnosis as soon as possible.

Site content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.