Sickle cell anemia is a life-long disease of the blood that affects the red blood cells. It is a genetically transmitted disease of the blood. It is not contagious. You cannot catch it through sneezing, coughing, or kissing. You are born with it, and you suffer for life. Normal red blood cells can live up to 120 days, but sickle red blood cells can live only between 10 and 20 days.
“In the US, this disease mostly affects African Americans. Approximately one of every 400 African American babies is born with this disease. There are effective medications and treatments for sickle cell disease”.
People with this disease inherit two genes, one from the mother and one from the father, which are different from a normal gene. Those genes are called sickle cell alleles. The most common symptoms of the disease are tiredness, lack of energy, pallor, yellow skin and eyes (jaundice), shortness of breath, dizziness, fatigue, ulcers on the skin, and leg sores (under the knees).
Lifestyle concerns of sickle cell anemia
With good medical care, many people with sickle cell anemia can live productive lives. It is critical for a person with sickle cell anemia to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle, taking steps to prevent and control complications and pain management. If you have a child or adolescent with sickle cell anemia, you can take steps to learn about the disease and help your close one to manage it.
Adopt or maintain a healthy lifestyle to manage sickle cell disease
- Maintain a healthy diet. Your doctor may suggest you take folic acid (a vitamin) every day to help your body make new red blood cells. Drink an adequate amount of water (at least 8-10 glasses) daily, especially in hot weather, to prevent dehydration.
- The body of a person with sickle cell anemia needs regular physical activity to stay healthy. However, make sure to avoid exercise that makes you very tired. Drink plenty of fluids when you do exercise. Talk to your doctor about how much and what type of physical activity is right for you.
- You should also get enough sleep and rest. Tell your doctor if you think you may have any sleep problems, such as snoring or sleep apnea.
- Talk to your doctor about whether you can drink alcohol and how much is safe for you. If you smoke, quit. Discuss with your doctor about products and programs that can help you quit smoking.
Take steps to prevent and control possible complications.
Along with healthy lifestyle habits, it is critical to prevent, control complications, and manage painful sickle cell crises. Several factors can cause sickle cell emergency. A basic understanding of risk factors and problems can help you manage your pain.
Prevention of complications
- Infections:- Infections are a severe complication of sickle cell anemia, and pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children with sickle cell anemia. Other common conditions linked to sickle cell anemia include meningitis, flu, and hepatitis. If a person with sickle cell anemia shows the first signs of an infection, such as a fever, seek treatment immediately. Adults with sickle cell anemia should also get flu shots every year and get vaccinated against pneumonia. To avoid infection, take:-
- A daily dose of penicillin. Treatment can start as early as two months of age and continue until the child is five years old.
- All routine vaccinations (such as a flu shot every year), plus the meningococcal vaccine
To avoid infection, make sure your child receives all the vaccinations that the doctor recommends. Good hygiene can help prevent it. Make your child wash his hands more often. It will help reduce the chance of getting an infection. Call the doctor right away if your child has signs of infection, such as fever or trouble breathing.
- Damage to the eyes:- sickle cell anemia can damage the blood vessels in the eyes. Parents should ask their child’s doctor about regular checkups with an ophthalmologist who specializes in retinal diseases. Adults with sickle cell anemia should also have regular checkups with an ophthalmologist.
- Strokes:- Stroke prevention and treatment is now possible for children and adults with sickle cell anemia. Transcranial doppler helps to check blood flow in the brain. The scans allow doctors to find out the risk of having a stroke.
Treatment for other complications:-
- Acute chest syndrome (chest pain, hypoxia, fever, and cough) is a life-threatening and severe complication of sickle cell anemia. Treatment generally requires hospitalization and may include oxygen, blood transfusions, antibiotics, pain medications.
- Blood transfusions help to treat anemia and worsening sickle cell complications. A sudden worsening of anemia due to an infection or an enlarged spleen is a common reason for a blood transfusion.
- Life-threatening problems such as stroke or pneumonia are preventable with other alternative methods, so blood transfusions, although for some people but not necessarily for all with sickle cell anemia.
- Having frequent blood transfusions can cause side effects. Side effects can include a dangerous accumulation of iron in the blood and an increased risk of infection from the transfused blood.
Additionally precautionary measures:-
- Avoid decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine. These drugs can narrow the blood vessels and subsequently prevent red blood cells from moving smoothly through them.
- Avoid extremes of hot and cold. Wear warm clothing when it’s cold outside and inside air-conditioned rooms. Don’t swim in cold water or go high without additional oxygen.
- Reduce stress in your life. Talk to your doctor or close one if you are depressed or have problems at work or with your family. Support from friends and family, along with a support group, can help you manage stress.
- If possible, avoid work that requires a lot of physical effort, are exposed to extreme hot and cold conditions, or involve long working hours.
- Regular checkups and treatment are also important. It may include tests for possible kidney, lung, and liver diseases. See a sickle cell expert regularly. Also, see an ophthalmologist regularly to check for eye damage.
- Get treatment and control for any other medical conditions you have, such as diabetes.
- Have a word with your doctor if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. You will need to take special prenatal care. Sickle cell anemia can get worse during pregnancy.
- Women who have sickle cell anemia are also at risk for premature birth or a low-birth-weight baby. However, you can have a healthy pregnancy with frequent checkups and early prenatal care.
Pain is different for each person. Work with your doctor to find a way to manage pain. You may need both over-the-counter and prescription medicine. Also, using a heating pad, taking a hot bath, resting, or getting a massage helps manage pain. Physical therapy can help ease your pain by helping you relax and strengthen your muscles and joints. Severe pain may need hospitalization. The typical treatment for acute (short-term) pain crises is a pain reliever that you can consume orally or intravenously. Treatment for mild to moderate pain usually begins with NSAIDs or acetaminophen medicine.
Sickle cell anemia is a complicated disease that requires a regular visit with your family doctor, who knows your medical history. Just because you have sickle cell anemia does not mean that your life is over. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle and taking preventive steps, you can live with the disease without affecting your daily routines.