Learn More About Sickle Cell Disease

What is Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle Cell Disease is an inherited blood disorder that causes anemia, tissue and organ damage, strokes and terrible pain. Red blood cells carry oxygen to all the parts of the body through a substance called hemoglobin. Normal red blood cells are soft and round and can squeeze through tiny blood vessels. People with Sickle Cell Disease have red blood cells that contain mostly hemoglobin S, an abnormal type of hemoglobin. These red blood cells are stiff, distorted in shape (like a sickle) and sometimes block small blood vessels. This is what causes the complications of Sickle Cell Disease and why transfusion from blood donors can help.

Who does this disease affect?

Over 70,000 Americans have Sickle Cell Disease. Ninety percent of all Sickle Cell Disease in the United States occurs in people of African descent. African American and Black donors can provide blood that is a better match for patients who suffer from Sickle Cell Disease.

How do you get Sickle Cell Disease?

You inherit the abnormal hemoglobin from both parents who may be carriers with the Sickle Cell Trait or parents with Sickle Cell Disease. You cannot catch it. You are born with the Sickle Cell hemoglobin and it is present for life.

What is the Sickle Cell Trait?

A person with the Sickle Cell Trait carries one sickle hemoglobin producing gene inherited from a parent and one normal hemoglobin gene. Normal hemoglobin is called type A. Sickle hemoglobin is called type S.

Sickle Cell Trait is the presence of hemoglobin AS on the hemoglobin electrophoresis. The trait alone will not manifest into Sickle Cell Disease. One out of every ten African Americans has the Sickle Cell Trait.

How will I know if I have the Trait?

A simple blood test called the hemoglobin electrophoresis can be done by your doctor. This test will tell if you are a carrier of the Sickle Cell Trait or if you have the disease.

What kinds of problems does Sickle Cell Disease cause?

Pain attacks are the most common problem. The pain is unpredictable and may require medications administered in the hospital. People with Sickle Cell Disease can have other problems such as strokes, lung damage, severe anemia, and serious infections.

How do you treat Sickle Cell Disease?

One of the main treatments for Sickle Cell Disease is for patients to receive blood transfusions. People with Sickle Cell Disease often receive regular transfusions. The problems and complications caused by Sickle Cell Disease may respond positively to medical treatments including blood transfusions, but the disease itself does not go away.

Can’t they just use any match to treat children with Sickle Cell Disease?

Children with Sickle Cell Disease often receive blood transfusions on an ongoing basis, making it more important for the them to receive the best match for their bodies. When they receive blood that is not the best match, their bodies may begin to slowly reject the blood. If they cannot receive blood safely, they may die.

How can I help a Sickle Cell patient that needs blood?

To ensure that your blood donation goes to help a Sickle Cell patient, please join our Blue Tie Tag Program. Identify yourself as African American or Black and allow our blood collection staff to place a blue tag on your blood donation. The blue tag will notify our processing lab that this blood donation is designated for the Sickle Cell program.

What happens to my blood if I am not a match for the Blue Tie Tag Program?

If your blood is not a match for a Sickle Cell patient, it is stored until it is needed. If the blood approaches its expiration date and has not been needed for a Sickle Cell patient, it will be available for other people in need, such as a cancer patient, a trauma victim, or a newborn baby struggling to survive. The Red Cross strives to ensure every blood donation helps a patient in need.