Understanding Sickle Cell Anemia
MEDICAL ANIMATION TRANSCRIPT: Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disease that affects your red blood cells. It’s one of the most common and usually most severe forms of a group of red blood cell disorders, called sickle cell disease. In order to survive, your body needs red blood cells to supply oxygen to its tissues. Red blood cells are made inside the center of your bones, called bone marrow. There, immature cells, called blood stem cells, can divide to make all types of blood cells, including red blood cells. Normal red blood cells are disc-shaped. Each of them contains protein molecules, called hemoglobin, that carry oxygen, Round, flexible red blood cells flow easily through your bloodstream and pick up oxygen in your lungs. In tiny air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli, oxygen moves into the blood and attaches to the hemoglobin in red blood cells. Then, the red blood cells deliver oxygen to cells throughout the body. In sickle cell anemia, there is a problem with your hemoglobin that makes your red blood cells sickle-shaped instead of round. This is caused by a defective gene that is passed from both parents to children through genetic material in your cells, called DNA. DNA is made up of sections, called genes. Two of the genes, called alpha-globin and beta-globin, contain the “blueprints” for making the hemoglobin proteins. In sickle cell anemia, the beta-globin gene has changed, or mutated. This mutation leads to the formation of an abnormal hemoglobin protein, called hemoglobin S. Hemoglobin S forms into rigid strands inside your red blood cells, which causes the red blood cell to be sickle-shaped. Sickle cells can block blood flow, and can cause pain and tissue damage. And, while normal red blood cells last ninety to one hundred and twenty days, sickle cells only last ten to twenty days. Your body may not be able to keep up with how fast the cells are destroyed. As a result, your blood has less red blood cells than normal. This condition is called anemia. The symptoms of sickle cell anemia vary from person to person but may include episodes of pain in your body parts, such as your hands and feet, lower back, chest, and abdomen; a yellow tint in the whites of the eyes and skin, called jaundice; and feeling tired due to anemia. Over time, sickle cell anemia can lead to complications, such as severe pain; and damage to your eyes, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and joints. Damage to your spleen, an organ that makes immune cells, can increase your risk of infections. The risk for sickle cell anemia is highest among people with ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa; Hispanic areas of South America, the Caribbean, and Central America; Saudi Arabia; India; and Mediterranean countries. To find out more about sickle cell anemia, talk to your healthcare provider.