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What is Sickle Cell Disease?

Updated: Dec 5, 2022

Sickle cell disorders are inherited blood disorders (haemoglobinopathies) affecting the haemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying substance that gives blood its red colour. Normally, red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. The cells are round and flexible, allowing them to easily move around your body.

Under certain conditions, the affected red blood cells change to resemble that of a farmer's sickle. The cells die more quickly than usual blood cells so people do not have enough red blood cells. This causes the symptoms of anaemia, such as tiredness and breathlessness.

If you have sickle cell disease, your blood cells can get stuck when moving through small blood vessels, stopping the supply of oxygen to parts of your body. This is known as a 'sickling crisis'. This can cause pain, tissue damage, and can lead to other serious complications, such as a stroke, or blindness.

People with Sickle Cell Disorder have symptoms which include severe pain, anaemia and an increased risk of infection. The symptoms of sickle cell anaemia can be treated, and people with the condition can learn how to help prevent sickling crises from happening. Usual treatments include penicillin, increased intake of fluids and painkillers.

The only cure for sickle cell anaemia is a bone marrow transplant. However, the procedure has many potentially serious side effects and is not recommended for all cases. Research for new treatments for sickle cell disease continues. Sickle cell disorders include Sickle Cell Anaemia, Haemoglobin SC Disorder, Haemoglobin SD Punjab, Haemoglobin SO-Arab Disorder, and Sickle Beta-Thalassaemia.

Sickle Cell Anaemia is the most common and often the most serious, but the other conditions can have similar outcomes to Sickle Cell Anaemia. Currently, between 14 and 16 million people are said to be suffering from Sickle cell disorders worldwide.


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