September is Sickle Cell Month

September 15, 2020

Sickle cell disease (also called SCD) is an inherited condition that affects the red blood cells. Inherited means it’s passed from parent to child through genes.

A person without sickle cell disease has red blood cells are round and flexible. They flow easily through the body’s blood vessels. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the rest of your body.

A person with SCD has red blood cells shaped like the letter C. These sickle-shaped cells are stiff and can stick to the walls of blood vessels. These sticky cells can cause a blockage that slows or stops blood flow which causes pain, infections and, sometimes, organ damage and strokes.

Cause and diagnosis of SCD

SCD is inherited. This means it’s passed from parent to child through genes. To have SCD, you have to inherit a gene change for sickle cell from both parents. If you inherit the gene change from just one parent, you have sickle cell trait. This means that you have the gene change for SCD, but you don’t have SCD. When this happens, you’re called a carrier. A carrier has the gene change but doesn’t have the condition. Sickle cell trait cannot become SCD.

SCD during pregnancy

Make sure you get early prenatal care if you have SCD. Don't miss any prenatal care appointments -even if you feel fine. Pregnant people with SCD need to carefully monitor their condition during pregnancy because they are at a higher risk of certain problems. For example, SCD can become more severe during pregnancy.  Pregnant people with SCD may have:

  • Pain episodes can happen more often
  • A higher risk for preterm labor
  • A low birth weight baby
  • Other complications

Find out if you or your baby have SCD or sickle cell trait?

If you or your partner has SCD or sickle cell trait, ask your provider about having a prenatal test, like amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (also called CVS) to find out if your baby has either condition.

All babies are tested for SCD after birth as part of the newborn screening tests. This allows babies who have SCD to be identified quickly and treated early. Because children with SCD are at an increased risk of infection and other health problems, early diagnosis and treatment are important.