Most at times we hear of people who are “sicklers”, or have sickle cell disease. Some are our relatives, others are friends. What most people still know is such people suffer a lot of pain and die young in life.
At a point, a school of thought tagged such people as cursed. When scientific proof wasn’t well spread, they were seen as unlucky spiritual human beings. Well, I’m here to explain to you what sickle cell actually means.
To appreciate all this, you have to know that every person has a specific haemoglobin genotype. Haemoglobin is a protein in your blood, specifically red blood cells which transports oxygen inside you to your tissues and organs to sustain life. Unfortunately, it’s not all types of haemoglobin which are normal. There are various types of haemoglobin.
What is necessary to us in this discussion though are haemoglobin A, S, C and F. Haemoglobin A is normal, common, and found in healthy people. Haemoglobin F is found in newborns. But haemoglobin S and C are however abnormal.
How do people even get abnormal types of haemoglobin? A gene is a unit of heredity transferred from parents to offspring. When the gene which leads to production of haemoglobin gets changed or altered or mutated, it results in abnormal type of haemoglobin. Because it’s inherited from parents, you can’t do anything about it.
A person inherits one copy from the father, and another from the mother. Hence if both parents have haemoglobin AA, definitely the offspring will also have haemoglobin AA, but if both parents have haemoglobin AS, one of the offsprings of such parents will have haemoglobin (Hb) SS (whilst the other offsprings will have haemoglobin AS). Those who have Hb AS have sickle cell trait (but not a disease), whilst the one with Hb SS have sickle cell anaemia/disease. Hb SC is also a form of sickle cell.
Sickle cells live for about 10-20 days (instead of about 120 days). To compensate, the body produces more red blood cells. Such body system becomes overwhelmed and can’t keep up. Hence it results in haemolytic anaemia.
Sickle cell anaemia patients experience delayed growth, painful swelling of hands and feet, frequent infections, vision problems, etc.
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This article was written by Joseph Ofori, a professional Medical Laboratory Scientist.