Sickle Cell Anemia in Children

March 21, 2022
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Sickle cell anemia is a condition that belongs to a broader group of disorders known as sickle cell disease. With sickle cell disease, normally round red blood cells take on a crescent moon or sickle shape. This shape can inhibit healthy blood flow, resulting in decreased delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the body.

Children with sickle cell anemia face considerable challenges, and it can be a painful, scary, and stressful condition for the child, parents, and caregivers. Being informed and educated about this disease and therapeutic options can help you and your little one to have an opportunity for the best possible outcome. The following information can help you work more closely with your treatment team to develop a personalized and effective care plan that is best for your family.

Sickle Cell Anemia Causes

Like other sickle cell diseases, sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition caused by a genetic mutation to hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the compound that helps make blood and transports oxygen to the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), sickle cell diseases, including sickle cell anemia, affect approximately 100,000 Americans.

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition. The primary risk factor is having the gene present in both parents. In the United States, this condition is very common among African Americans, with sickle cell disease being present in about one in every 365 births among this population.

Types of Sickle Cell Anemia

There are many different types of sickle cell disease. The most common is known as hemoglobin SS disease, which is when a defective gene is inherited from both parents. This is also the form that can cause the most severe symptoms.

Other types include Hemoglobin SC, Hemoglobin SB+ (beta) thalassemia, and Hemoglobin SB 0 (Beta-zero) thalassemia. These variances depend on which type of gene is inherited from the parent and how the red blood cells are formed.

Sickle Cell Anemia Symptoms

The type and severity of symptoms typically depends on the type of disease, the individual patient, and age. Children with sickle cell anemia will often experience the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue, due to lack of oxygen from healthy red blood cells, which is the main symptom of anemia
  • Anemia
  • Severe pain episodes, also called pain crises, which can last for hours to days at a time
  • Frequent infections
  • Swelling in the feet and hands
  • Delayed growth, including late-onset puberty
  • Vision problems
  • Fever
  • A yellow tint in the eyes

In many cases, symptoms of sickle cell anemia require treatment at a hospital. If your child is experiencing any of the above symptoms before or after being diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, seek immediate medical assistance.

On a long-term basis, children with sickle cell anemia have an increased risk of stroke, high blood pressure, organ damage, vision problems and blindness, gallstones, and pregnancy complications. Children with sickle disease will often undergo testing and screening to identify the potential risk for these and other complications.

Diagnosing Sickle Cell Anemia in Children

Doctors will usually diagnose sickle diseases before birth due to genetic screening. In some cases, children will be tested later in life if symptoms are believed to have developed.

Treating Sickle Cell Anemia in Children

For sickle cell anemia in children, the main goal of treatment is managing pain and symptoms and preventing complications. Specific treatment will vary on a case-by-case basis depending on the type of the disease and severity of symptoms.

Treatment options may include:

  • A drug known as hydroxyurea, which can decrease pain episodes but increase the risk of infection
  • Pain relievers, including oral narcotics
  • L-glutamine, a recently approved oral powder can reduce the frequency of pain
  • Antibiotics to manage infections or reduce the risk of them developing
  • Blood transfusions to increase the volume of healthy red blood cells in the body

Stem cell transplants, also called bone marrow transplants, may be recommended for children with severe symptoms of the disease. Although a successful stem cell transplant can effectively cure sickle cell anemia, this can be a highly risky procedure that can cause life-threatening complications if the body rejects the donor material.

Children with sickle cell anemia have significant care needs. Families very often rely on the support of pediatric home health services to assist children with medication, dietary needs, accompanying them to appointments and other aspects of care. A dedicated and experienced home health professional can be a key member of any successful caregiving team.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care in Florida

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

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