Understanding Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is actually a collection of disorders rather than a single disorder, but these disorders are unified by certain common symptoms. Essentially, sickle cell anemia patients will experience problems where their red blood cells will break down and develop a form that is reminiscent of a sickle, which is where the condition gets its name. Patients specifically have hemoglobin abnormalities.
Sickle Cell Anemia Causes and Prevalence:
Sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition. No one will spread sickle cell disease to anyone, but patients might pass it on to their children. Patients need to inherit two genes for the disease in order to actually develop symptoms. People who only inherit one of the genes will get a generally symptom-free version of the condition called sickle cell trait. This will make them symptom-free carriers who might go on to have children who have the full-blown version of the disease.
This is also a condition that disproportionately affects people of African descent. The prevalence of sickle cell anemia will vary tremendously from country to country. There are millions of people with sickle cell anemia all around the world. There are fewer than two hundred thousand cases of sickle cell anemia in the United States, and some estimates say that there are around ninety to one hundred thousand people with the condition in the country.
Nigeria is the country with the largest population of sickle cell anemia sufferers. Every single year, one hundred and fifty thousand babies are born with sickle cell anemia in Nigeria, and some of them barely make it out of infancy.
Some activists in Nigeria are urging people to get genetic testing in order to change the inheritance of sickle cell anemia. Other people are trying to find a way to ensure that Nigerian citizens get the treatments that they need in order to live longer and healthier lives. Other than genetic testing, there really is no way to prevent sickle cell anemia altogether. Patients just have to find a way to cope with the symptoms.
Symptoms of Sickle Cell Anemia:
Many people who have sickle cell anemia will experience terrible bouts of exhaustion. Many of them are incapable of moving vigorously at all. When the condition flares up, they might have a hard time even walking at a normal pace.
Sickle cell anemia is also regarded as a chronic pain condition. In some cases, particularly for children with the condition, the pain will occur in large and temporary bursts. Adults and teenagers might end up feeling the pain on a more recurring and chronic level, so it can be harder for them to actually function in their daily lives.
There are lots of sickle cell anemia patients, and the condition does vary in terms of its severity. There are people who have sickle cell anemia and who live relatively normal lives. However, plenty of other people find that the condition leaves them terribly disabled.
Sickle cell anemia interferes with the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to the organs. As such, people with this condition will often develop terrible organ damage over time. Everything from the brain to the joints and skin can suffer in the process. Many of the sickle cell anemia patients who die young perish as a result of organ damage like this. Others will die from strokes, which are also more common in sickle cell anemia patients.
Prognosis for Sickle Cell Anemia Patients:
The life expectancy of a sickle cell anemia patient is going to vary tremendously. In many cases, it’s all a matter of location. Sickle cell anemia patients in developed nations have a tendency to live longer than those in other countries.
In the United States, sickle cell anemia patients will live for forty to sixty years or so. In other developed nations, the life expectancy is even higher than that. However, the life expectancy of a sickle cell anemia patient is going to vary tremendously on an individual level in almost all cases.
Sickle cell anemia patients who have access to good healthcare might be able to live a completely average lifespan based on the longevity statistics for the average person in their area. Sickle cell anemia patients in the United States lived for around fourteen years on average in 1973, so medical science has already made tremendous progress with regards to improving the health outcomes of sickle cell anemia patients.
However, far too many sickle cell anemia patients still die too young and still don’t have access to the treatments that they need to prolong their lives. In Nigeria, as few as five percent of sickle cell anemia patients even make it past their tenth birthdays. In the United States and the United Kingdom, two countries with very different healthcare systems, ninety-six percent of sickle cell anemia patients at least still make it to adulthood. There’s no doubt about the fact that the problem is more severe in every sense in some countries.
Treatments and Cures:
Many patients will try to manage the condition through regular blood transfusions. Blood transfusions are safer than they used to be, but the availability of blood in hospitals will vary from culture to culture. Nigerian patients might have a hard time regularly getting the blood transfusions that they need in order to maintain optimal health. Other people need pain medication on a regular basis.
There is a cure for sickle cell anemia, but it is still in the largely experimental stage. There have been people who took the new hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) cure and who have apparently made a full recovery as a result. However, this treatment is still expensive and it is certainly not available outside of certain developed nations. Very few people in Nigeria will be able to benefit from hematopoietic stem cell transplantation any time soon. However, treatments like this do promise hope for the future.