Sickle-cell anemia

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Updated: 4/11/2007 2:46 pm
Most commonly afflicting African-Americans, and people with ancestors in regions like Greece, Italy, or India, sickle cell anemia is an inherited disease that can be painful and destructive. The disease stems from an abnormality in the hemoglobin (HEE-moe-glow-bin) found inside red blood cells. Hemoglobin is what helps your blood carry oxygen. With normal hemoglobin, your red blood cells are round and supple, so they can squeeze through narrow arteries. But persons with sickle cell anemia have another type of hemoglobin, called hemoglobin S. This causes the red blood cells to assume a rigid, crescent shape, much like a sickle. Instead of flowing smoothly through the arteries, sickle cells may get caught, shutting off circulation to various parts of the body. The result is an excruciating episode called a 'sickle cell crisis,' which can damage the bones, lungs, liver, kidneys, and other major organs. Sickle cell crises (CRY-seez) can also cause strokes or blindness. In addition, the body attacks the sickle cells, thinking they're foreign invaders, which creates anemia. New medications are available that aim to decrease the frequency of sickle cell attacks. Certain changes in diet may also be beneficial. It's recommended that all infants be screened for sickle cell anemia. Early antibiotic therapy can prevent infections that tend to occur in children with this disease. For more information, consult a health care specialist.

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