Healthy red blood cells are responsible for distributing enough oxygen throughout the body. If you have sickle cell anaemia, a type of anaemia that is inherited (i.e. a genetic disorder), you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells.
In medical terms, abnormal haemoglobin S (Hb S) instead of haemoglobin A (Hb A) is present in the red blood cells.
Regular, healthy red blood cells are round and flexible, making movement through blood vessels easy. In patients who have sickle cell anaemia, not only are the red blood cells shaped like sickles, but they turn rigid and sticky causing them to get stuck in small blood vessels. This can slow or even block blood flow and therefore delay oxygen distribution to certain parts of the body.
Sickle Cell Anaemia in Nigeria
According to research, Nigeria has the largest population of people with sickle cell anaemia (or sickle cell disease aka SCD) in the world. Every year, more than 150 000 babies are born with this serious condition. Also alarming is the estimation that only 5% of the affected babies in Nigeria live passed the age of 10 (in UK and USA over 96% of sufferers survive into adulthood). Those with SCD often struggle with education, employment and psychological development due to chronic pain and other complications associated with the disease.
Symptoms of Sickle Cell Anaemia/Disease
The main symptom is recurrent episodes of pain, called crises. The pain is caused by the sickle-shaped red blood cells blocking blood flow to the chest, abdomen and joints. The intensity of the pain varies, but it can last for hours or even weeks. Other symptoms include:
- Painful swelling of hands and feet
- Frequent infections
- Delayed growth
- Vision problems
How Can PGD Help?
If SCD runs in your family there is a way to avoid passing it to your baby. A procedure called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is performed during in vitro fertilisation (IVF) to thoroughly examine embryos with the goal to select disease-free samples for implantation.
In a country where sickle cell anaemia (SCD) is so prevalent, we should strive to spread awareness and understanding for this severe genetic condition.
Every year, June 19 is celebrated as world Sickle Cell Day.
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