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Stay Healthy with Sickle Cell Disease

What is sickle cell disease?

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. In SCD, red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C shaped farm tool called a "sickle." The sickle cells die early, which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells. Also, when they travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow.

Effects of SCD:

What is sickle cell trait?

People who inherit one sickle cell gene and one normal gene have what is called sickle cell trait. People with sickle cell trait usually do not have any of the symptoms of sickle cell disease and live a normal life, but, it is possible for them to have complications of the disease under extreme conditions, such as:

  • High altitude (flying, mountain climbing, visiting cities with a high altitude)
  • Increased pressure (scuba diving)
  • Low oxygen (mountain climbing or exercising extremely hard, such as in military boot camp or when training for an athletic competition)
  • Dehydration (too little water in the body)

People with sickle cell trait can potentially pass the disease on to their children.

It's important to know whether or not you have sickle cell trait. Sickle cell trait is diagnosed with a simple blood test. People at high risk for having sickle cell trait are those whose ancestors come from Africa, South or Central America, the Caribbean, Mediterranean countries, India, and Saudi Arabia.

There are several types of sickle cell diseases for more information visit CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Division of Blood Disorders

Who does SCD Affect?

Sickle cell disease affects people of many racial and ethnic groups. In the United States, 1 in 400 African-American newborns has the disease. Other people affected include Hispanics, people of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent, and Asians. In addition, more than 3 million people carry the gene that allows them to potentially pass the disease on to their children.

Staying Healthy with SCD

Photo: A man and woman.Get Regular Checkups

Regular health checkups with a primary care doctor can help prevent some serious problems.

  • Babies from birth to 1 year of age should see a doctor every 2 to 3 months.
  • Children from 1 to 2 years of age should see a doctor at least every 3 months.
  • Children and adults from 2 years of age or older should see a doctor at least once every year.

Prevent Infections

Learn Healthy Habits

  • Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water every day and eat healthy food. Try not to get too hot, too cold, or too tired.
  • Children can, and should, participate in physical activity to help stay healthy. However, it's important that they don't overdo it, rest when tired, and drink plenty of water.

Look for clinical studies

New clinical research studies are happening all the time to find better treatments and, hopefully, a cure for sickle cell disease. People who participate in these studies might have access to new medicines and treatment options.

Get support

Find a patient support group or community-based organization that can provide information, assistance, and support.

Help Spread the Word

Send an e-card to someone you care about

Sickle Cell Have you been tested?

For educational materials to display contact the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America (SCDAA).

More Information

  • Page last reviewed: March 14, 2011
  • Page last updated: March 18, 2012
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs