The world observes Sickle Cell day on the 19th of June to spread the awareness about this painful disease. Sickle cell disease is a type of anemia.
In a healthy person, the blood cells are typically round in shape which allows it to move freely across the different blood vessels. However, when a patient has sickle cell disorder, his or her blood cells are become rigid and shaped like a ‘sickle’. This is where the name of the disorder comes from.
These crescent shaped or sickle shaped cells cannot move freely in the blood stream and get stuck at different spots in the blood vessels. This can slow the blood flow from the heart to different parts of the body which further leads to acute pain.
Although there is no cure for this disease, there are certain treatments available to help you alleviate the pain.
Anemia manifests in various different types. This is why sometimes, it might get difficult to identify if you have Sickle Cell Disease or not. There are however some symptoms that are telltale signs of this disorder.
- Anemia: Sickle cells are essentially very unhealthy cells that die within 10 to 20 days of being manufactured in the body. While healthy cells stay about 120 days. This rapid degeneration usually causes severe anemia in the users.
- Acute Pain: Sickle cells are shaped like crescents. One might experience periodic spells of acute pain that might last for a few hours or even a few weeks. The pain usually occurs in the abdomen, joints or even your chest close to the heart. In case the pain is serious and stays for longer spells, one might have to be hospitalized to make the patient feel at ease.
- Painful swelling of hands and feet: Because of the blockage that the sickle cells cause, blood does not flow properly to the different parts of the body. This might cause painful swelling in your extremities.
- Frequent infections: Sickle cells are known to affect the spleen of patients. Spleen essentially helps in fighting various forms of infection. When the spleen itself gets affected so badly, it drops the overall immunity of the person thereby making him or her very vulnerable to various kinds of infections. Visiting a doctor is of critical importance to ensure that children and other patients can be prevented from enduring life-threatening diseases like pneumonia.
- Delayed Puberty: If a young child suffers from Sickle Cell disease, it might slow his or her growth resulting in a much delayed puberty. Basically, since red blood cells are responsible for providing the different organs and parts of the body with oxygen and nutrients, lack thereof can lead to a slowed growth.
- Problems related to eye sight: There are many tiny blood vessels that supply blood to your eyes. In case the sickle cells reach these vessels and plug them, it can cause blurred eyesight. In some cases, it might eyen damage the retina leading to permanent vision problems.
When should you see a doctor?
Sickle Cell Disease is a disorder that develops early during infancy. However, in some cases it might not be symptomatic or diagnosable in the early age which may lead to symptoms surfacing much later. In that case, you must visit the doctor the moment you experience any of the following:
- Severe pain in the abdomen, joints or the chest for no apparent reason.
- Painful Swelling in the hands or feet.
- Bloating in the abdomen with severe pain to touch.
- Frequent episodes of fever.
- Paleness in the fingernails or eyes.
- Mild yellowing of the skin.
- Numbness or weakness on one side of the body or other strokes like symptoms
- Acute severe chest pains
Spread awareness about Sickle Cell Disorder
Sickle Cell Disease is something that not too many people are aware about even though it is a largely prevalent. This is why it is important that you spread awareness about it. If you are yourself experiencing these symptoms or if you know someone who is, a visit to the doctor is absolutely critical.
Since this disease shares symptoms with other disorders, it is possible that the doctor might not be able to diagnose it in the first visit. This is why it is very important that you speak to the doctor about exactly what you are experiencing. You might even have to specify to the doctor that you suspect that it could be sickle cell disorder.
Treating Sickle Cell Disease is a big challenge. Not only is the disease very painful, it can also be deadly. Usually, the pain that comes along with sickle cell can be very unforgiving forcing patients to resort to relying on pain medication.
However, please note that any kind of pain medication is just a temporary fix to stop the pain. It does nothing to ‘cure’ it. The only plausible treatment for it is to undergo Bone Marrow Transplant. This process is also known as stem cell transplant.
Although this seems to be the only possible treatment, a bone marrow transplant is a painful and difficult procedure. This is why; such treatment is only offered to patients under the age of 16. Anyone over this may suffer from worse reactions in when subjected to this treatment and might even die.
For children who are under the age of 2 years and are diagnosed with this disease, they must visit the doctor very frequently to be able to monitor the exact state in which their body is. Children between the ages of 2 to 16 should make a visit to the doctor at least once every year.
Of course, in case the patient suffers from regular and severe bouts of pain, they must visit the doctor whenever they feel any kind of discomfort. Proper antibiotics help in keeping other infections at bay while pain killers can temporarily ease the pain.
On the whole, it is important for you to realize that painful diseases like the Sickle Cell Disease don’t get enough attention, which is why not too many know about it. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned in this blog, please visit your nearest doctor and get a blood test done. Take care and wish everyone a healthy life. If you’d like to share any of your experiences with this painful disorder, please write in the comments section below.