Sickle cell anemia is a hereditary blood disorder that mostly affects African-Americans. Sickle cell may have originated in Africa where they called the children born with this disease "ogbanjes," children who come and go, because they died soon after birth. The slaves brought sickle cell to the New World by 20 - 25% of them being carriers of the trait. Dr. James B. Herrick discovered the disease in 1904, and reported on it in 1910. During the next 40 years they studied and reported many cases of sickle cell, leading to a better understanding of this disease.
The symptoms of sickle cell anemia are severe pain and swelling. Children with sickle cell begin to show symptoms during the ages of four to six months. Symptoms in these infants include irritability, fever, frequent colds, pale nails, yellow eyes, and swelling of the hands and feet. Sickle cell is usually caught early in this age range. It can even be
found before birth with a test called amniocentesis. Few children live past this age without treatment.
Sickle cell is a hereditary disease. Parents cause sickle cell by having a child with someone who has the disease or trait, and then passing the disease or the sickle cell trait to their child. The sickle cell trait is the form with mild symptoms or none at all. With sickle cell anemia, hemoglobin molecules (which contain iron and absorb oxygen from the blood) release oxygen too soon. The cells get stiff and curve into the "sickle" shape. This reduces their life span which results in anemia. The blood cells also stick together and cannot go through the capillaries--restricting blood flow and therefore, oxygen to the blood tissues. Lack of oxygen causes the internal organs to fail. The clots of blood cells cause the pain and swelling. The shortage of oxygen causes pain before the death of the red blood cells, which release poisons into the system.
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