Sickle Cell Anemia in Children

March 4, 2020
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Receiving a dire medical diagnosis always comes with an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Why is this happening? What does it all mean? Things become even more excruciating when it’s a loved one who’s receiving the diagnosis — especially if it’s either a fatal condition or a lesser-known one, such as sickle cell anemia. What, exactly, does sickle cell disease mean? What are the symptoms of the condition? And, how is it treated?

What is sickle cell anemia?

Sickle cell anemia is a blood disorder in which the patient lacks healthy red blood cells. In a healthy body, red blood cells are shaped like a disc. In a person with sickle cell anemia, red blood cells are shaped like a crescent moon. They are also sticky and can get stuck to the walls of smaller blood vessels — blocking blood flow, and in turn, oxygen to the rest of the body. When nearby tissues and organs fail to receive adequate oxygen, the person experiences sudden, intense pain. This is known as a pain crisis — and it can occur without warning.

Sickle cells also have a shorter lifespan than healthy blood cells — 10 to 20 days vs 90 to 120 days — which leaves the patient needing regular transfusions. The condition currently has no cure.

What causes Sickle Cell Anemia?

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition present at birth. It’s caused when a baby receives two defective sickle cell genes — one from each parent. If a child is born with only one sickle cell gene, they are referred to as having sickle cell trait. While they can live a relatively healthy life, they could pass on their single defective gene to their own children.

Sickle Cell Anemia Symptoms

The symptoms of sickle cell anemia may vary from person to person. Typically, they appear during infancy and include the following:

Sickle Cell Anemia Diagnosis

All babies born in the United States are screened for sickle cell disease — as well as for sickle cell trait. If a diagnosis is missed early, it can be done later through blood tests. If you already know that you have sickle cell trait and are concerned about passing it on to your child, a doctor can screen the fetus by taking a sample of the amniotic fluid. If you and your significant other aren’t expecting yet, you can undergo genetic counseling to discuss your options.

Sickle Cell Anemia Treatment

Treatment is mostly geared toward preventing pain crises. This is done through prescription medications, blood transfusions, and stem cell transplants. Children may also need penicillin injections to prevent infections.

In addition to medical treatment, several lifestyle factors may ease symptoms. These include:

  • Avoid extreme temperatures. These can increase the risk of a pain crisis.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can also increase the risk of a crisis.
  • Take folic acid. This can aid in the renewal of red blood cells.
  • Exercise regularly. Doing so increases levels of antioxidants. Be sure to get your doctor’s approval first.
  • Treat fevers as soon as they arise. High fevers left untreated can cause a Sickle Cell Crisis.

Sickle Cell Anemia Risk Factors

In the United States, one out of every 13 African American children is born with sickle cell anemia. It also has a higher incidence in Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern children. In Caucasian babies, the risk is higher if there’s ancestry from Southern European countries.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child who has sickle cell anemia. You can feel helpless and want to spend every minute of your day with your child, and home health providers offer the support you or your loved one needs.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.