Sickle cell anemia refers to an inherited type of anemia. It is a disorder characterized by the lack of healthy red blood cells which carry sufficient oxygen across the body.
The defective gene responsible for sickle cell anemia is more common in families originating from India, Africa, Saudi Arabia, the Mediterranean, and Central and South America. It is quite rare in the white population. Sickle cell anemia in the United States is common among Hispanics and African Americans.
In normal cases, the red blood cells are circular and flexible, and easily move across the blood vessels. However, the red blood cells in people with sickle cell anemia become sticky and rigid. They are shaped like crescent moons or sickles, and as such can get wedged in tiny blood vessels. This can then block or slow down the flow of oxygenated blood to various parts of the body.
Sickle cell anemia has no known cure. However, different forms of treatment can help in alleviation of pain and also prevent the development of health problems related to the condition.
It may be noted that sickle cell anemia is caused due to mutation of a gene which signals the body to produce hemoglobin. This iron-rich, red compound facilitates the transfer of oxygen from the lungs to different parts of the body via the blood vessels. The abnormality of hemoglobin in patients with sickle cell anemia is what causes the red blood cells to become misshapen, rigid, and sticky.
The sickle cell gene has an autosomal pattern of inheritance which means that copies of the mutated gene has to be passed by both the parents. Thus, a child who has inherited only one copy of the defective gene, normally does not elicit the symptoms of the condition. Instead, he/she becomes a carrier of the sickle cell trait.