What is Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle cell disease is one of the most common genetic disorders in the United States primarily affecting African-Americans. In Virginia, sickle cell disease is the most prevalent disorder identified by newborn screening tests. Approximately 75 newborns are identified each year through newborn screening.

Sickle cell disease causes red blood cells to function abnormally, becoming rigid and curving into a sickle-like shape. The sickle shape makes it difficult for the cells to pass through tiny blood vessels, resulting in painful blockages that prevent vital oxygen and nutrients in the blood from reaching organs and tissues. These blockages can result in tissue damage, severe recurrent pain, strokes, organ damage and other serious medical complications.

Sickle cell disease primarily affects those of African descent, but also is found in people who trace their ancestry to South and Central America, the Middle East, India, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

There is no universal cure for sickle cell disease, but new treatments and preventive therapies have improved the life expectancy and quality of life for people with the disorder.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month!